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The Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, D.C.; photo by Jacquelyn Martin
The Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, D.C.; photo by Jacquelyn Martin

TEARS, GRUMBLES GREET MLK MEMORIAL

Aug. 24, 2011

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The $120 million, 1,600-ton, 30-foot-tall white granite memorial to Martin Luther King that President Barack Obama is unveiling on the Mall in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011, depicts the great Civil Rights leader with a stern countenance and arms crossed. Sited by the Tidal Basin in a spot surrounded by cherry trees, the sculpture promises to be a source of inspiration and emotional uplift, according to early press reports.

With the possible exception of a few anonymous comments, of course. People have seemed to take umbrage at the fact that the memorial was imported from China (where it was carved by 57 year-old Chinese artist Lei Yixin) and that the image of Dr. King is, well, white. "Dr. King would not have wanted that money sent to China," said a reader of Atlanta CBS. "Why why why is it so damn white?" asked a patron of USA Today."I am appalled. . . . Spray it the right color and make it real!" someone suggested on the New York Daily News site.

Other comments on the USA Today board approached comedy -- or fresh art criticism -- complaining that the statue has "Asian features. . .  and the body of the Pillsbury Doughboy," or declaring that the likeness is "terrible. . . his suit looks like it’s made out of cardboard." Probably worst of all, also from Atlanta: "It looks like he’s lying in a coffin, standing up." Despite all the grumbling, King’s family is on record as approving of the likeness.

The monument, which has supposedly been 25 years in the making, was crafted from more than 150 blocks at Lei’s studio in Changsha, shipped to the port of Baltimore and reassembled on these shores by a team of 100 workers. Lei was selected as head sculptor for the project in 2007 by Ed Jackson, executive architect of the Martin Luther King Foundation. The unveiling ceremony on Aug. 28 marks the 48th anniversary of King’s iconic “I have A Dream” speech, and in fact the monument is said to be inspired by a line from the speech: "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope."

King is the first person of color to have a memorial on the Mall. His statue is flanked by memorials to Thomas Jefferson to the southeast, Abraham Lincoln to the northwest and Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the south.


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A map of the Mall with the location of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
A map of the Mall with the location of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial