The Martin Luther King Memorial Controversy Update

I blogged about this issue of the Martin Luther King Memorial.  The MLK Foundation has selected a Chinese Artist to carve the huge sculpture of Martin Luther King that is supposed to come out of the wall in the memorial.  They did not have an open competition and further more did not consider an African American to perform the work.  

Artist, Gilbert Young  was outraged and launched a campaign to demand that the MLK Foundation reopen the competition.  He has been on the Joe Madison Show (The Black Eagle)  to discuss this issue.   This lead to an on air interview with representatives of the MLK foundation and Joe Madison.  They stated their position and didn’t really seemed concerned about the complaints.  Which brings us up to today’s events.

Joe Madison and Lou Dobbs are good professional friends and he mentioned it to him.  Well Dobbs took the story on his show which aired last night.  And more information was revealed; not only did the MLK Foundation choose an Chinese artist from Communist China to sculpt Dr. King, the granite stone that will be used to carve Dr. Kings image is also coming from China.  On the Lou Dobbs show last night, his investigation revealed that an American stone company had offered to sell the MLK Foundation the stone at cost because they wanted to be involved in the project, and the foundation never responded.  Read the transcripts here.  lou-dobbs.doc

Let us remember that if Dr. King was living in China during his lifetime, he would have been arrested because China did not have Civil Rights for their people. Remember when they selected the designs of Maya Ying Lin, an Asian American to create the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall? 


There was outrage among Veterans who wanted an American artist to create the memorial.  So to appease the Veterans, the board commissioned Frederick Hart, an American scultptor to add his stautes to the memorial


So the question is this:  Should the MLK foundation reopen the competition so that all who want to compete for the honor of sculpting Dr. King’s image?  Was it right for the MLK foundation to select a Chinese artist from a communist country? 


14 Responses

  1. Native..While Dr. King rallied and was an advocate for all people, I feel given the fact that Dr. King was African American and his legacy benefited many of us, the sculpture should indeed be executed by a black artist. I have to agree with Mr. Young’s frustration as to given the immense talent amongst Afican American artists, not one could be found. Frankly, it’s a slap in the face and I would also be deeply offended.

    Would a black artist be commissioned to do a sculpture of Mao? I think not. We also have to wonder why the same Chinese artist (Maya Lin) was chosen to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. I have NOTHING against ANY person because of their nationality. It goes against my personal beliefs and values as a human being. I treat each person who I come in contact with a fellow human being and with the utmost respect.

    However, how can a Chinese artist understand and appreciate the struggles and sacrifices that Dr. King’s legacy embodies? It baffles me for sure.

  2. Honestly, as an african american, I understand how some of us may want the sculpture to be performed by someone of african background. On the other hand I think if MLK was alive he would be flattered and honored that someone on the other side of planet appreciates what doors he has opened for every minority in this country. But to say that this chinese artist wouldn’t understand the struggles of blacks in this country is a load of crap. She is a chinese female. In many parts of her own land only boys go to school. They put a cap on how many children a couple can have. Her homeland is a place where her own people have very few civil rights which is why she admires an opportunity like this. Does anyone remember the phrase “Not a China Mans Chance”. Chinese have gone through their share of hell in this country as well. Maybe doing this sculpture gives her hope for her own people. People want to speak for MLK… you need to stop… If he were alive today do you truely believe he would choose the best artist based off race or skill? I am shamed that my own people are turning this iconic man of our culture into a hypocrite.

  3. There is clarification needed here. There was indeed a competition for the design of the King Monument/Memorial. A total of 900 entries were received (each paying $75 to apply) and the Roma Group (a white owned architect/design firm) won the competition with the assistance of Dr. Clayborne Carson who heads up the King Research Institute–how’s that for conflict of interest. There WAS NO compeition for the sculptor Lei Yixin. He was “chosen” according to Mr. Jackson and Mr. Johnson of the King Foundation. Unfortunately for them, the sculptor the King Foundation originally chose–who is black–also protested the use of Lei Yixin with a 13 page critique of the model the Chinese guy submitted to the Foundation. For some ODD reason, the Chinese guy was named Artist of Record and given the contract. We’re finding out new information every day, and it’s disgusting.
    Lea Winfrey Young
    for Gilbert Young

  4. Ms. Young:

    Thank you for you for your feedback. It is indeed interesting to see the pieces of this puzzle come out day by day.

  5. I believe Dr. King was an ispiration for all Americans and I certainly understand the frustrations by African American community. The memorial should be completed by an American with American granite. If the sculptor is a black man, even better.

  6. The Vietnam Memorial controversy was different, because the artist chosen was indeed American.

    This situation is much different. I would like to see a black artist given the work, but at least an american artist.

    Alicia, your comments on Chinese are very inaccurate. I doubt the Chinese artist chosen would tell you he lives in an oppressive society, like American propaganda would have you believe. There are different classes of people in China, like the US, and at different strata of society you have different rights, also like the U.S.

    MLK and Malcolm were and are international inspirations, but as many people have pointed out, ethnic and nationalist monuments seldom go to outsiders, no matter how friendly to the cause these outsiders are. We should be the same.

    When has a black man been given work on the various Holocaust Memorials that have gone up all over the country. When has a black man been given work for memorials and monuments that have gone up in the Far East? That would never happen; people have too much pride to allow it.

  7. Hey Native Son… I’d appreciate it if you would correct the last sentence in your first paragaph to read, they DID NOT have an open competition… for the sculptor. That’s the problem: the process! Without accountability for the $82 million raised by August 2007, public and private donors are not aware the extent to which MLK Memorial Project members are using funds to travel to Italy and China to inspect stones and arrange such exchanges as putting on a play (belonging to Stanford Professor Clayborne Carson) in China this year. BUT… there are even more serious flaws with what is going on in the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. For full details, see these: OR
    An opinion on this matter is like a vote!!! Speak up and be heard…

  8. G.D. Gibson:
    I changed it thanks


  9. If it hadn’t been for Gil Young protesting the injustice surrounding the King Memorial most of us wouldn’t even be aware of some funny goings on by those raising millions of dollars in Dr. King’s name. Thanks, Gil.

  10. I’m an Artist who concentrates in the area of Sculpture. I studied at Southern University under the late Frank Hayden Sr., a very gifted, and talented Sculptor. Also, at Southern University I learned a few things from Mr. Albert Laverne, and Mr. Martin Payton, also very gifted, and telented Sculptors. I’m not bragging, but I can accomplish the task, and so can anyone of the above mentioned Sculptors.

  11. It’s great to see this thread still stirring.

    Two points of clarification:

    Maya Lin, Vietnam Memorial designer is an Ohio-born American citizen of Asian-American Heritage. Criticism of her ethnicity was wrong and racist. She was and is an American. If an American of any ethnic-specific variation had been chosen for the MLK Memorial through a fair and open process, much of this protest would be greatly moot.

    Lei Yixin, contracted as Artist of Record for the MLK Memorial, is recognized as a national treasure in China and receives a lifetime pension from their Communist Government to work as an artist. More than a quarter of his works involve images of Mao Zedong- at least one of which bears an uncanny similarity (except for the head) to his rendition of Dr. King. If he’s free to do as he pleases artistically, he prefers to pay homage to the dictator responsible for the murders of 70 million people instead of suffering to do his art as a vehicle to communicate and uphold decency, civil & human rights and human life in general.

    I am Clint Button, US Granite Industry to King Is Ours. I am also a full-time US Granite Industry Sculptor , one of a dozen left in the USA. Working with Gilbert Young, we stood in Barre VT on Nov 8, 2007 surrounded nearly a dozen US Granite Industry Master Sculptors and Carvers- including the three who carved the 24 ft tall statue serving as backdrop for our Press Conference. MLK Foundation CEO Harry Johnson responded by saying “It’s a lost art, if you will.” Denied maybe- but not lost. Not yet. No one there ever got a chance to bid on the project.

    On MLK Day, Jan 21, 2008, Gilbert Young and I will stand in Elberton, GA- the Granite Capitol of the World- with US Granite Industry African American Stonecutters. They are infuriated that, although they work not two hours from Dr. King’s home in Atlanta, their region was never even contacted to bid on the project, either.

    Stone Mountain region visits claimed made by the MLK Foundation are a sham- no quarries have operated there since the 1970’s, with all manufacturing operations reverting to Elberton by mutual agreement at that time. Furthermore, no quarries in the US operate on Sundays.

    Now it is said US Parties will have opportunity to bid on the leftovers- the sidewalks, benches and walls. The most important part, the 28 ft tall feature statue, will still be 100% Made in China with 100% Chinese granite- quarried/produced under virtual slave labor conditions. Of the projected $100 Million budget, $10 Million was appropriated by Congress in June 05. Federal money means an open and fair process which NEVER occurred.

    US artists, artisans and companies still get to sit wherever we like- as long as it’s in the back of the bus, we’re quiet and don’t make any trouble. This is as wrong now as it was decades ago.

    Granite Sculpture typically involves reproduction of an artist’s design (done in clay) into larger scale in granite by media-fluent industry artisans. To render such a design from an African American artist or artist team into granite using American Master Artisans is the ideal scenario. It will be a multi-ethnic team of Americans producing our interpretation of our history.

    This memorial even provides viable opportunity for training a new generation of granite sculptors, learning under 30- and 40-yr veterans of the industry. Aside from the multi-ethnic make-up, such scenario offers possibility for thousands of Americans to strike the stone and actually participate in Dr. King’s memorialization, while growing the very best into the next generation of artistic leaders. Instead of the MLK Foundation’s representation that it cannot be done in America- we will all look back upon what we did together. Can there be a more appropriate memorialization to Dr. King than that?

    Do not delay. Before it is too late, sign our petition, linked at Contact your State and US Congressional reps to demand 100% US Labor and 100% US Materials. Demand full transparency of the entire process from those responsible. Google Gilbert Young, King Is Ours, King Memorial Protest, Clint Button, etc and understand the full truth- not the racist spin and partial truth being pedaled by the MLK Foundation and segments of the media.

    Following the lead of King Is Ours, the US granite Industry, CA NAACP, VT Congressional Delegation and many more are already pursuing what is right. But more help is needed. What can each person reading this do to help?

    This will be the last great statue on our National Mall. Repatriation of this memorial could happen easily, if not for the egos of the MLK Foundation leadership. They will be heroes or will forever taint Dr. King’s legacy. Do not let them corrupt our history.

    Join us. Do what it right before it is too late. King Is Ours.

    Clint Button
    King Is Ours- US Granite Industry Liaison

  12. The King statue should be representative of the African American King that he was. I’m requesting American Artist Working with American stone , as much as possible. Make it happen !!!!!!!

  13. On August 28, 2007, the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, I blogged about the problems with the model for the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial on the National Mall. As an investigator reporter I was able to point out that the model was WRONG and thus historically inaccurate. Because the project’s chief architect, Ed Jackson had given a picture of Dr. King to the Chinese sculptor… he did not noticed that the image was reversed and that he was sculpting Dr. King using the wrong hand to hold his pen ( Now nine months later, THE WASHINGTON POST (05-09-2008) finally revealson its front page that the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts has problems with the proposed King statue. Even this powerful federal arts commission fails to note that Dr. Kiing is holding a pen in his LEFT HAND when former ambassador Andrew Young noted in Ebony magazine decades ago that Dr. King was RIGHT HANDED. Nows the time to let the commission hear from you.

  14. The memorial to Dr. King should be a ten-foot-high bronze mask of his face, looking out from the Lincoln Memorial steps from the very spot he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Anyone could then look out through his eyes (there would be holes for the pupils) and contemplate what he said, why he said it and the historic importance of that speech in that place at that time.

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