The Who2 Blog

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Controversy

[ Update 2023: For thoughts on The Embrace, the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument on Boston Common, see our report. ]

Martin Luther King, Jr. still stirs controversy, four decades after his murder. This time it’s about a national monument.

Perhaps you’ve heard the grumblings about the new Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. As Who2 reported earlier, the new memorial includes a 30-foot granite statue by Chinese artist Lei Yixin. The granite is from China, too.

That didn’t sit well with some folks, including rival sculptor Ed Dwight, who believes the job should have gone to an American. Specifically, an American of African descent who’s not from a communist country and didn’t study in Russia. Specifically, Ed Dwight.

See his arguments in a video interview from MSNBC. Ed says Dr. King would be “turning over in his grave” to discover Lei Yixin had carved his statue.

Critics also blasted the statue as being too reminiscent of the Soviet style, and too “confrontational” (King’s arms are folded). Defenders say it’s powerful, and that Dr. King sorta-kinda was confrontational.

One problem with the memorial — the product of a process that started in 1999 — has been the quote, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” The news this week was that the quote will be changed to reflect King’s original, from a speech in 1968. What he said was, ““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.”

They can change a quote (I wonder how much it costs to change a quote in granite). They can’t really change the statue, which has King emerging from a larger block of granite (the sculpture is called the Stone of Hope, from another King quote, “…out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope”).

I suspect the memorial will stay as is, conveniently located in the middle of all the most popular monuments in Washington, D.C. According to reports, more than a million visitors have seen it already. And years from now, people won’t care who carved it or what country the rock came from. Nor will they care if it’s a good likeness of Martin Luther King, Jr., another complaint from the critics.

Instead it will probably be known as the biggest and most powerful statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., judging from the many statues of King across America.  For your pleasure, here are a few of those statues:

From Portland, OregonFrom Portland, Oregon From Birmingham, AlabamaFrom Birmingham, Alabama From Austin, TexasFrom Austin, Texas Hey, that's not a statue!Hey, that’s not a statue! From Chicago, IllinoisFrom Chicago, Illinois The new monument in Washington, D.C.The new monument in Washington, D.C. From Albany, New YorkFrom Albany, New York

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