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The Failed Dream of the MLK Jr. National Memorial

The Failed Dream of the MLK Jr. National Memorial
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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.

MLK Memorial

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.”

74.MLKNM.WestPotomacPark.WDC.22August2011

Photo by Elvert Barnes

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Photo by Elvert Barnes

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60 comments

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1:31PM PDT on Sep 14, 2011

Article says it all in the last paragraph.....not a fitting tribute for such a great man.

12:18AM PDT on Aug 30, 2011

Thanks for the article.

7:50PM PDT on Aug 28, 2011

So glad the memorial is up for all to visit. I hope to do that myself one day.

9:01AM PDT on Aug 28, 2011

King did say something about this in one of his speeches, billions for space travel but not enough for meeting human needs, I think. Because the world didn't listen to Jaures, World War I and Word War II happened. The socialists active in Europe and in charge both in Germany and France, and big in England, found themselves lined up killing each other being swept by howitzers and machine guns, killed by monarchs hurling them at each other.

8:04AM PDT on Aug 28, 2011

everybody from Jean Jaures socialist leader in France in 1914, to Ben Cohen believes the dear cost for such a monument would have been better spent by the government for something productive like social welfare, and probably King himself would have been of this opinion. A simple statue of piled up stones costing nothing on the Washington Mall would have sufficed and would possibly last for thousands of years. just another T-loot from our malfeasants in Congress.

1:57AM PDT on Aug 28, 2011

waste of time...not money as the workers do not get payed.....

welcome to america!

6:57PM PDT on Aug 27, 2011

Oh I see, the Chinese workers volunteered out of "National Pride", I was thinking they were underpaid and exploited or chosen just to save money. That's ok I guess. The sculpture is a little stern looking for my taste, but it sure looks like a lot of work to sculpt.

5:38PM PDT on Aug 27, 2011

I happen to like the memorial and am grateful to those who made it possible.

5:31PM PDT on Aug 27, 2011

I'm not so sure I like the sculpture, not because it was made in China (since I wasn't aware of that until I read this article), but simply because it doesn't look finished to me. Dr. King was not a solitary figure standing strong like a wall; if it weren't for the people (and as I understand it their dislike of gays at the time) he would have been nothing and done nothing perhaps not even the negative things he did as a result of his thrust to fame.

That the sculpture was made in China speaks to Dr. King's focus on equality for all people, and shows that the Civil Rights struggle in the US is known globally. If there has been any disservice done to his message of equality for Blacks, it was done by the people of this country including the very ones he spoke in support of.

There is no way that any American artist would have worked for free. Americans don't volunteer their services like that.

3:44PM PDT on Aug 27, 2011

Memorials have a way of taking the faces of ones making them rather than the ones being 'honored'.

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