Monday, April 16, 2007

Chinese MLK Memorial Controversy Part Three

King's Dream Was Colorblind

April 13, 2007

The irony is painful.

Plans are under way to build a memorial for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to be prominently displayed between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials.

It's a fitting tribute to the civil rights leader who was slain here in Memphis.

Unfortunately, the project has become mired in controversy over the hiring of a Chinese sculptor to craft King's likeness.

"They've selected a Chinese sculptor from Communist China to do it," complained Morris T. Howard, a Memphis artist. "There's a lot of dissatisfaction with that."

According to Howard and others who share his views, it's unconscionable that an African-American artist wasn't chosen to do the work. They claim the $100 million project has been hijacked by corporate interests.

Atlanta artist Gilbert Young started a Web site in an attempt to mobilize opposition against the selection of Chinese artist Lei Yixin and even the use of Chinese granite instead of rock hewn from Stone Mountain in Georgia.

"You mean to tell me we couldn't find a stone in America that was good enough?" Young asks. "You mean to tell me we couldn't find a black artist who was good enough?"

We'll leave the rock debate to geologists. However, it seems like Howard, Young and other detractors have missed an essential point of King's teachings.

In his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech, King spoke of a day in which people would be judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.

The memorial project's critics apparently fail to see that they're doing exactly the opposite of what King advocated.

They want Lei disqualified from consideration based on the color of his skin. Or the politics of his home country. Or perhaps both. That's discrimination, any way you look at it.

Lei emerged as the top choice after the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Foundation saw his work in a sculpting competition. It's worth noting, by the way, that 90 percent of the foundation's selection committee members are African-American.

Young further suggests that King -- and by extension, the monument project -- "belong" to African-Americans. (Young's Web site is called

That kind of thinking demeans the universal appeal of King's message.

One of the inscriptions planned for the monument comes from a 1967 King speech, in which he said: "If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective."

In light of his world view, King might have been pleased to have his memorial handled by someone from a distant country, particularly one where people are struggling for civil liberties.

He might not approve of everything China is doing as a nation, just as he didn't agree with everything the United States did while he was alive.

Above all, though, he stood for the rights of the individual. Even individuals who didn't look like him.

Copyright 2007, - Memphis, TN. All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

AGREE !!!!!!!!!!!!! And Dr. King has No Mustache !!!!!