The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Controversy

July 26, 2007

The LA Times wrote a piece on the MLK Memorial issue.  The MLK foundation needs to seriously take a second look at what is going on.  

June 26th Update

Here are 2 stories the AJC did on the MLK memorial and its relationship to China.  One article discusses how Communist China banned King’s books and readings for fear of protest and uprising. 

The other article talks about a group of Chinese Students ho are putting on a production of King’s speeches.  They admit that may people of China did not know much about King beyond his I have a dream speech.  I applaud their efforts for getting to know more about MLK.  But the decision to select a Chinese artist to sculpt the image of King still is a contraversial issue.

Chinese granite for King statue: Georgia stone more expensive; donation of rock offered

MLK play breaks ground in China

May 24,2007- more Info

Every week more and more info is coming out about this issue, and the more I am convinced that selection process was not fair.  I want to thank Ms. Young for added facts to this post.  This is a serious problem and it needs to resolved.  Make sure to read Ms. Young’s comments on this post.

 Just when we are so close to getting the King Memorial on the National Mall, A bomb was dropped.  I was hesitant at first to discuss this because it has not received coverage over the main stream media arena. but on black talk radio it is all over the place. 

The controversy is over opinion piece written by black sculptor Gilbert Young.  You can read his commentary on his website.

Gilbert Young has asked people to call the MLK foundation and the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity headquarters in Baltimore, to demand that they reopen the competition and include all black artist.  In an interview on the Joe Madison Show  he even went as far as saying that it should not have been opened to the international public.  Even though Dr. King was about unity and justice for all, Mr. Young says that black people are the ones that supported King during the Civil Rights Movement and even though he was all inclusive, he is an African American icon and should be sculpted by one, not a Chinese man.  He says that he is use to main stream society shutting out black artist and not taking them seriously, but for our own people to do it is disgusting.

Word spread quickly and the Director and the Art Director of the MLK Memorial foundation called the show today to defend their position.  They stood by their choice and maintained it was fair and since Dr. King was for freedom for everyone, they wanted to make sure that the project had international appeal.  They went to Italy to look at the types of stones that will be used for the sculptor and emphasized that even though the Roma Group is a main stream developer, the group hired minority subcontractors to participate in other aspects of the memorial. Mr Young said that the most important part of the memorial will be the actual King Sculpture and that it should be carved by a black person.

Martin Luther King believed in the human spirit, even in the face of adversity, he stood his ground and helped motivate black people to start one of the greatest social movements in our country.  I do not think he would be thrilled that we would be arguing amongst ourselves over this matter.  The Executive Board of Directors are mostly African Americans; contributions have poured in from all over the country from citizens to private companies. 

I am not trying to discount our black artist because I do believe they are excluded from main stream society and don’t get the credit they deserve; but we in the black community don’t give them the support that they deserve also. 

What is your take on this?  I want to hear from you about this.



19 Responses

  1. I guess I can somewhat understand the frustration of the Black artists, but to say that its wrong to have an artist of a different ethnicity work on the MLK monument is a bit much. MLK wasnt just for the uplift of African Americans, but for all marginalized peoples. I honestly believe that it would honor his legacy to have a wide variety of ethnicities working on his memorial.


  2. While I do agree with the one world concept, and I do believe that we are to love and respect one another, however, I have issues with this not going to an African American artist. When, if ever will an African American artist get such an honor? Probably never again. I think that we as a society continue to relegate many talented African Americans to the margins. This is a golden opportunity for us to show the young artists of today and tomorrow that our work is worthy of standing on par with the great monuments of this great nation. It can give them more possibilities to imagine as they look to the future. This is a chance to show the world that we have talents other than in sports and entertainment.

    Can you imagine world travelers walking through the grounds and admiring the statue created by the hands of an African American? The message that we’re sending now, is whenever we want a lasting work done to honor our greatest, We aren’t good enough to do it ourselves, but we must find someone else.

    How can an artist, and I understand he’s one of the best, from another country have the same sensitivty for the works of Dr. King. Can he feel the emotions of the “white” and “colored” drinking fountains…can he feel the waterhoses and dog bites, can he feel the sting of being called a N******? The answer is obviously “No”.

    I can only imagine the tears shed from an Afrian American as he carves and thinks of his ancestors and the burdens that they had to bear..the times his grandfather was called boy and every floor that his grandmother had to mop.

    There is more that goes into creating a monument than just carving out a piece of stone. There are certain sensitivities and a connection with history.

    As someone said not too long ago..

    Do you think that the Jewish community would have even considered Spike Lee to do “Schindlers List”?
    Do you think that there are any monuments in China of Chairman Mao were done, or will be ever done by an African American?
    The answer is obviously…No. I could go on and on with examples, but the point is that for our history to be told,or portrayed accurately we must be the ones to do so.

  3. This is Irony at it’s height. An artist from a communist nation will create the monument one of the greatest democratic and human rights heroes. Speaking through an interpreter, Lei said “I spent a whole lot of time gathering material about Dr. King,” Lei said. “I tried to get the feel of what was inside his mind.” -Reuters. This artist doesn’t even speak English and based on his own words didn’t know anything about Martin Luther King. This is simply Ironic

  4. Ujamaa.

    When we will learn that in order for people of African descent here in America to reach our highest potential we have to learn to respect ourselves, define ourselves and support ourselves.

    I agree with Louie Jones comment –> no way would an African American artist be commissioned by an Asian museum board of directions to create a statue of an Asian icon.

    I would have been more understanding if Black sculptors were beat out by an American white sculptor than I am by this situation. At least an American white person could have an appreciation of the subject. Having a Chinese sculptor do a google search on “MLK” ain’t the same thing.

    Ujamaa. Umoja. Kuumba. We have to begin to live out these Kwanzaa principles on a 24/7 basis … not just the week after Christmas.

    peace, Villager

  5. These have been some really interesting comments. Please send this blog post to others so that may respond as well

  6. This is shameful that an organization like Alpha Phi Alpha would even have to vote on selecting an African American Artist. The number of excellent African American artist in the world speaks volume. I was a part of the focus groups and marketing developments to get this project started. The ideas and emotions were so favorable for African Americans creating and developing this tribute, made me proud and the King family proud. I felt it was a bright day for African American working together.
    Was it the money? Did China offer you money for the sculptor? Sure King, wanted a color blind world… That is not the issue here and don’t bring that up again as a smoke screen.
    The real issue is a Blayne disregard of the talent and unified efforts of African Americans working together to make a differences in how the world perceives us.
    I am very disappointed in Alpha Phi Alpha.
    Our ancestors are rolling over in their graves!

    Brothers, you better make this right!

  7. Have you seen this artists work? It’s STUNNING. MASTERFUL. MOVING. I doubt that any artist could have done any better. It will be a fittng tribute. So what he’s Asian? King would be proud.

  8. This is outrageous. MLK was not the movement by himself. The mostly poor, but very “Proud” blacks who had had enough and stood up for themselves and the world being against them deserve to have one of their children or grand children being the sculptor of this piece. They are the ones who hung, bled and died along with this Proud man. It was Black mentors and preachers and members of the community who helped MLK every step along the way, ready to take the bullet, knife or whatever else came his way. So it shd. be one of their children who shd. be given such an honor. How would the world know how far we have come, if we are not given such a grand opportunity to display it? (DUUHH) MLK would think this is ridiculous. No other race would turn their backs on one of their own to have such a distinguished opportunity. Shame on you members of the faternity who want to honor MLK, you of all persons shd. know this is sooo wrong. Our people fought and died to help Martin prevail, the international community has a right to respect and honor him, but don’t give away such a distinguished honor to make others feel good. Do the right thing offer two sculptors to be made, one with a black artist.

  9. To all who have taken the time to write, my husband Gilbert Young and I salute you. Your responses tell us that we were right when we sat down to write the commentary “A Chinese Martin Luther King,” last March. We knew we would not stand alone. We thank you “nativeson” for deciding not to hesitate any longer and to join in spreading the word. We’d like you to know more of the facts. You must make sure you have your facts straight. There was indeed a competition for the DESIGN of the monument/memorial. More than 900 entrants (each paying $75 to apply) hoped to win the chance to immortalize King in D.C. The ROMA group, a white owned firm out of San Francisco, won the “blind” competition. They were assisted with their entry. Dr. Clayborne Carson, director of the King Research Institute, assisted them–and they won. The sculptor from Communist China, Lei Yixin was CHOSEN. There was NO competition for the sculptor. In fact, Lei Yixin was originally brought onto the project as a sub-contractor. Ed Dwight, who is African American, created the original models for the monument. So “Quevin” when you say “Have you seen this artists work? It’s STUNNING. MASTERFUL. MOVING…” you are actually complementing Ed Dwight.

    Yixin was brought in to take the model from a 12 inch maquette to a monumental granite sculpture, which he is known for. The dirty part of all of this is that after years of working with the King Foundation, Ed Dwight was kicked to the curb. The contract–along with the designation “Artist of Record” meaning he could put his name on it–went to Yixin along with a contract for Chinese granite. This isn’t about Dr. King being “a man for all people.” We all know that. But guess what…All people were not for King. Which is why he died on that balcony fighting for the end of Jim Crow, segregation, racism, prejudiced busing, church bombings, lynchings and all the rest. The next time you want to include “all the world” in admiration of King’s philosophy, take a look at the donor list on the King monument site and write down the names of the foreign countries that have donated to the King Monument.

    Listen, you all are charged with the task of carrying on and preserving the legacy, history and culture of African American people. What better way than to claim the right to present OUR history the way WE see fit so that the world will finally come to recognize OUR flag.

  10. Quevin..I have to respectfully disagree with you. I wrote my thoughts about this on a previous blog. For you to say no other artist can do better than this Asian one is practically an insult. I’m not at all discounting this artist’s talents, one iota. Additonally, this person knows little, if anything about Dr. King and his legacy. Shameful if you ask me.

    It’s also a shame that a black artist was not chosen to do the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Al. As one poster (Villager) above put it, they could accept that even if a white person were selected for this current project. At least that person would understand and appreciate the history behind the sculpture, even though blacks suffered greatly at the hands of whites back then.

    I feel the creation of this memorial is more than just a physical undertaking, but as Mr. Jones stated above, and emotional investment as well.

  11. From the article:

    “and emphasized that even though the Roma Group is a main stream developer, the group hired minority subcontractors to participate in other aspects of the memorial.”

    Gil’s take:

    That’s like saying “we are sorry that we did not pick a black artist, but we will throw you a bone for consolation”.

    I also have to wonder what “other aspects” these forms will be involved in. Does that translate to cleaning up after the artist? It’s like the artist is the valued chef creating the main course, and the sub-contractors are the kitchen help. what an insult.

  12. ” When we will learn that in order for people of African descent here in America to reach our highest potential we have to learn to respect ourselves, define ourselves and support ourselves. ”

    mark bey: I completely holds with this statement. I dont think the Chinese would let black folks design a monument for a chinese hero.

  13. Greetings,
    If it is true that a Chinese person is to do the artwork on the MLK Memorial, it flies in the face of all the talented artists that we have among African Americans. There is one such artist and sculptor who was at NC A&T State Univ. and participated with the Greensboro Sit-ins in early 1960. He was at A&T when Jesse Jackson was a student there, as well. His name is Wilbur Mapp, and he resides in Greensboro, NC. He has done a bust of Dr. King for the City of Greensboro, and was commissioned to do one of the Greensboro Four (the Sit-ins participants). Additionally, he has also done a bust of Harriet Tubman for the Tubman Theater at Livingstone College where he was an art teacher in the 1990s…and one for the Hood Theological Seminary at Livingstone College.

    When “foreign” or white artists have been commissioned to do “our” sculptures, they don’t always satisfy the public with their renditions of our heroes…as was the case in Rocky Mount, NC…my hometown…where about 2-3 yrs. ago, there was a huge outcry over the “poor likeness” of the completed Dr. MLK King, Jr. stature.

    A person who has lived the hopes and the dreams of Dr. King, and has walked in the places and spaces of all black people, and can feel the ancestral spirits of “our people”,
    will have the right approach and attitude to such a work. I am a poet, and when I write about someone or something, I am consumed with that person or thing from an inner spirit. This cannot be contrived when it comes to emboding and memorializing the essense of Dr. King.
    I just wanted to share my thoughts on this. Thank you very much.

    Sincerely yours,
    Beverly Fields Burnette,
    Raleigh, NC
    President of the NC Assoc. of Black Storytellers,
    an affiliate of the National Association fo Black Storytellers celebrating its 25th Anniversay in Atlanta, Ga,
    The Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel
    Atlanta, Georgia
    November 14 – 18, 2007

  14. I could’ve understood a Chinese person doing the sculpture if he/she were a dissident, or an exile, who found inspiration in the story of Dr. King. There are Chinese people who are fighting against the communist regime, and are influenced by people such as Dr. King and Ghandi. This sculptor doesn’t seem to fit the bill.

  15. It’s somewhat ironic to me that, while Dr. King preach equality and justice for all, many people are criticizing the selection of a Chinese person. Many of the comments here, and elsewhere for that matter, are borderline racist. I hope that you will open your eyes and simply focus on honoring Dr. King, not bickering over what race is designing the sculpture. I also do not understand what communism has to do with this. Lastly, I do not believe Dr. King would fight the selection of a Chinese person to do his sculpture. So lets all just be happy now and wait for the opening of the memorial.

  16. This makes me sick to my stomach. If we are to leave an image for the later generations to look upon and be inspired by, it MUST be known that this image was created by American hands, hearts, and minds.

    Who the hell decided that this was a good idea? I am disgusted at the utter lack of diginity on display here. Whichever politician pulled the lever on this project deservese to be banished – run out of town for all time.

    – Disgusted and Apalled in California

  17. The issue is not about race.
    The issue is about Dr. King’s belief and what he stood for.
    Lei is famous for carving statues of Mao; that is his claim for fame. His colleague, according to LA Times, rated him as being between first and second tier sculptor.
    Dr. King talked about “all embracing and unconditional love”; Mao talked about class hatred.
    Dr. King talked about all great religions as the “supreme unifying principle of life”; Mao called religion “the opium of the people”.
    Dr. King talked about non-violence; Mao advocated violence against class enemies.
    In an April 3, 2007 AFP report, it wrote, “Lei said he first heard of King as a middle-schooler in the 1960s when the Communist Party had students read King’s ‘dream’ speech.”
    In the 60’s, the CCP considered Dr. King as “reactionary running dog”, a state enemy. If Lei teacher indeed taught that, that teacher would have been sentenced to the laogai, the CCP labor camp.
    Would you recommend a sculptor famous for carving Hitler’s statue to make a statue of Anne Frank?
    Would you recommend a sculptor famous for carving David Duke’s statue to make a statue of Dr. King?

  18. its so sad to see that the “men” of a phi who are spearheading this whole thing are still suffering from willie lynch syndrome…..i guess this is to be suspected of any people of african descent who like to call themselves greek.

  19. The oppertunity to debate anyissue should never be passed up. There is power in the blog!
    I agree with Mao we should let a 100 flowers bloom.
    Maybe it was a thousand, Idon’t rember.
    However at the end of the day,the question remains,did we,were we of service to our fellow humans,have we left something better,than we found it?
    Dr. King was a great man with a world vision and it’s fitting to have all humanity involved in his mounument,It seem the people in leadership of the undertaking share that vision.
    Therefore there being no all powerfull dictatetor in control of the ,us/afro blk thought .We can have this disagreement ,and that’s alright.
    There are folks on both sides of this issue who if old enough did’t agree with Dr. King on all the issues.
    As a minor supporter of the arts I agree there is pride in having a “native born ” in the movment black person’s be the primary or only art workers of this great undertaking.
    But I under stand the vision of Dr. King and the efforts to be true to it. So I can flip the script,I understand Dr. is not just an afro/am icon , he belongs to the world and as such it should’t matter who’s hand lifts the banner or carves the stone, for a son of man.
    This is the correct position,if we see your selves a a part of the whole, which in our country is not an easy ,when too few of us are willing to take ownership of just this country.
    let alone the world.
    When it has become increasingly clear the major contrdiction for this epoch is not a color line but ownership, who’s planet is it ?

    Now if folks really want to fight for a symbol to Dr. King lets
    have one of the redneck slaveholders removed from the cash. I vote for jackson that was one mean peckerwood.
    That’s also a certain amount of real power.
    All power to the people!

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