PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — With his infectious laugh and signature hat, 92-year-old Paul Knauls is affectionately known as The Mayor of Northeast Portland.
The former nightclub owner, barbershop proprietor and entrepreneur is also the man behind “The Dream,” the statue of Martin Luther King Jr. that prominently stands outside the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, seen by thousands of people every day.
“I’m so proud of the statue,” Knauls told KOIN 6 News. “I think the fact that, you know, the whitest city in America, for them to come and see the statue I think that means the city’s very special.”
“The Dream” started with a group of 3rd- and 4th-graders in the 1960s.
“Dr. King visited Highland School to do a speech while he was in town and the kids were so inspired that they asked the teachers, ‘Why can’t we build a statue of Dr. King? And why can’t we change the name of our school to Dr. King?'” Knauls said. “So, the project started.”
Shortly after Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, Highland School became the first school in the nation named after Dr. King.
Decades later, Knauls began fundraising for the statue from corporations donating thousands to people who could only afford to give a few dollars.
“Every person I saw in the grocery store, movie theater, on the street, whoever, I’d ask them for money — and they’d give it to me.”
It took 8 years to raise $175,000 for the statue created by artist Michael Florin Dente. It was dedicated on August 28, 1998, exactly 35 years after Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
Among those at the dedication was entertainer and civil rights icon Harry Belafonte.
“I think they can look at the struggle, but more and more how the community came together because we had people from all walks of life that made this possible with their donations and their support,” Knauls told KOIN 6 News on that day 25 years ago.
More than 800 donors are acknowledged on plaques beneath Dr. King’s feet.
There are 4 figures in “The Dream”: Dr. King, a man representing the American worker, a woman who represents immigration and a young girl pulling on Dr. King’s coattail representing intergenerational respect.
It is a profound statement in the City of Roses, a place where people feel the spirit of Dr. King.
“The things he did for African-Americans and for America. It was just astonishing at that time that he did it. Gave up his life for that,” Knauls said. “But the dream is still alive.”