The dedication of the new Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial has been postponed due to Hurricane Irene but controversy is brewing. Some visitors have raised concerns that the 30-feet tall statue of King, standing with arms crossed in a pose reminiscent of a photograph by Bob Fitch, faces Thomas Jefferson rather than Abraham Lincoln. Others have questioned why a Chinese sculptor, Lei Yixin, was selected to carve the statue rather than an African-American artist or, indeed, an American one.
Photo by Jason Rosenberg
The “Stone of Hope” statue was sculpted in China and shipped to the US where a team of Chinese workers assembled it, as Politico points out, without pay. Given that there is no short supply of experienced and unemployed — and unionized — construction workers, why still bring workers from China only to pay them nothing in violation “not only Dr. King’s principles but also U.S. anti-slavery laws”? Here’s what Edward Jackson Jr., the executive architect of the project, recently told Courtland Milloy of the Washington Post, with Politico‘s commentary.
“Not only did we need an artist, we needed someone with the means and methods of putting those large stones together,” Jackson said. “We don’t do this in America. We don’t handle stones of this size.”
Jackson has worked long and hard to get the King memorial built, and he is deserving of recognition for his efforts and dedication. But his statement is pure baloney. The sculptures at the site are made up of 159 blocks of granite, and I think the United States of America – - somehow – - could have scoured its citizenry and found people who knew how to put together 159 blocks of granite.
Not only has the construction of the memorial raised eyebrows. A review of the memorial in the New York Times suggests that the very design of the memorial “never alludes to the fundamental theme of Dr. King’s life, equal treatment for American blacks.”
Initially, the ROMA design group, the San Francisco firm chosen to design the memorial, wanted to make water its main theme, to evoke King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and his frequent references to the the prophet Amos in phrases like“let justice run down like waters …”. But financial constraints meant those initial plans had to be abandoned and only two small fountains appear at the entrance to the memorial. In the now-completed memorial, two huge granite blocks are arranged to evoke another passage from the “Dream” speech that mentions a “mountain of despair.”
Photo by Elvert Barnes
Photo by Elvert Barnes
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