The Martin Luther King Monument Made In China: Will His Image Reflect His Life Or A Sign Of Our Times?
In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. - Martin Luther King, Jr. taken from ‘I Have a Dream’ speech
I visited the newly installed Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, D.C. just a few days after it opened on August 30, 2011. Approaching the MLK Memorial entrance, I knew it was going to be impressive. Two 30 foot masses of granite greet you giving you passage to the MLK monument. As you continue to walk, you can see the Thomas Jefferson memorial across the Tidal Basin... this moment is breathtaking. As you walk toward the front of the stone figure on the South side of the monument the words 'Out of the Mountain of Despair a Stone of Hope' are clearly seen. Once standing in front of the MLK monument I realized the full impact of the statue at 28 feet. The color of the stone is stark white against the sun, and while his face features are MLK, his arms folded are not the MLK I visualize. His stance is stern and his eyes look almost angry making him unapproachable. Somewhere in the translation, we lost the compassion MLK had for his people. In fact, the exceptional largeness of the MLK statue was so colossal that the only thing I was thinking about was the size of his likeness. After visually digesting this obvious fact, I then began to focus on MLK and his life dedicated to the Civil Rights movement.
Cliff Kincaid wrote a story on the memorial, and I found this bit of information very interesting, “The four acres of land for the memorial were granted by Congress and $10 million of the $120 million cost came from U.S. taxpayers. A law authorizing the memorial was signed by President Clinton in 1996. Ironically, the $10 million in federal funding was in a 2005 appropriations amendment co-sponsored by Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), a former member of the Ku Klux Klan.”
It is quite ironic that King’s memorial was sculpted by a Communist Chinese artist, Lei Yixin. Yixin has over 150 monuments attributed to him which include busts of the mass murderer Mao Zedong. In Mao’s own words, “Revolution is not a dinner party, nor an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery; it cannot be advanced softly, gradually, carefully, considerately, respectfully, politely, plainly, and modestly. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.” This statement reflects the Maoism he adhered to during his dictatorship. He believed in violence, a sharp contrast to MLK's non violence stance. The same hands that carved the Zedong busts carved the MLK monument. The monument is made in the ‘socialist realism’ form of art. An art form used in the Soviet Union for propaganda purposes to highlight communist leaders as heroes. Much controversy has been attributed to the fact that a Communist artist was commissioned to carve the monument and not an American artist. There is an American black artist, Ed Dwight, which could very well have been asked to sculpt the monument.
It is interesting to note here that MLK had in his entourage Stanley Levison, who was in the Communist Party and lead MLK to Hunter Pitts O’Dell, another Communist on King’s staff. We forget why the Kennedy brothers, Bobby and John F. Kennedy, wire tapped MLK. They strongly believed that somehow MLK was being influenced by these Communists, and in turn MLK had the power to influence millions of Americans. As president, JFK was doing his job in wire tapping to protect the American public. The Jackie Kennedy tapes that were recently released have Jackie as saying MLK was ‘terrible’, ‘tricky’ and a ‘phony’. No one likes to have their hero shot down.
I might add that all art provokes discussion or controversy, before, during and after. Besides the usual bickering among government agencies, the incident with the MLK family I did find appalling. The Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation overseeing the construction of the memorial had to pay the King heirs $8,800 in copyright fees. Fascinating that it was money that became the bottom line for the heirs and not the MLK message of peace and justice. The visitors argue that the MLK monument faces the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and not the Lincoln Memorial, and poet Maya Angelou says the quote inscribed on the North side of the monument makes MLK seem arrogant. “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” This quote was paraphrased to read, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” and Angelou is not happy that the quote was shortened.
So as not to bring you only my opinion, I decided to ask two black Americans present at the memorial what they thought of the monument. I was surprised at one of the answers as I had expected both of them to be in awe of the monument. Dewayne Harris from Stafford, Virginia liked the statue of King and thought it represented him well. Rob Henderson from Detroit, Michigan had another thought. He felt that MLK looked like a father waiting to scold his child for a wrong deed. He did not like the arms crossed at his chest. I have to admit that this simple explanation was the more realistic analysis of the statue.
Martin Luther King, Jr in his search for racial justice and equality advocated non violence. He was a man of peace; he wanted more than anything equality for all men, not just the black man. He wanted the black man and the white man to work and live side by side as brothers. In his famous 1963 speech, ‘I have a Dream’, he spoke that all men including black men should be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The memorial to King is certainly a sign that the ‘black’ man has come to fruition. I am sure that to most, MLK is a beacon of light, not only for African Americans, but for all Americans seeking racial justice. The MLK monument may very well be a memorial to another sign of our time, the ‘Made in China’ Communist era of the United States of America and how close we are in becoming a Socialist country. The dedication was scheduled for August 27th but Hurricane Irene caused it to be postponed. The dedication is planned for October 16th.