I was part of the first generation born after the victory of the Civil Rights struggle but before Martin Luther King jr was martyred. While my political party allegiances and beliefs have shifted over the years, my admiration for Dr. King has never wavered. King was a man whose life was so large that he transcended petty political divisions. His fight for justice and dignity for all was not a battle between Left or Right, Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative. It was a battle between the forces of Good and Evil, Knowledge and Ignorance, Light and Darkness. In the end he triumphed although he died before he reached the Promised Land that he dreamed about.
I have followed the controversy over the King memorial on the National Mall for several years. I understand that such controversies over monuments in Washington DC are common; I still recall the controversy over the Vietnam Memorial in the 1970’s and how over the years it has been forgotten due to the emotional impact from the simplicity of the memorial. But Dr. King’s memorial is different.
The memorial was commissioned by the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation which did not solicit bids from American sculptors and quarries. It selected Lei Yixin, a sculptor who had done large scale statues of Mao Zedong and the Dingli Stone Carving Co at a time when American artists go hungry and granite quarries lay off workers. The foundation has justified its choice of Lei and Dingli Stone but its claims have been refuted by stone cutters and sculptors in Vermont, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Dr. King would also not have agreed with China’s human rights record and there are concerns over the dangerous working conditions Dingli. In addition King is misquoted on the monument, and his portrayal in the Socialist-Realist style common to Communist leaders like Mao and Lenin makes King appear stern and lifeless. Congress has evidently investigated the Foundation but there is a reason why it outsourced the monument to China, a regime that holds human rights in such disregard that it bases its foreign policy on the doings of a single Buddhist monk. We simply haven’t heard what that reason is, but we eventually will. I’d also like to know what the Dalai Lama thinks of the Foundation’s choice.
The controversy continued today with the dedication where speaker after speaker praised President Obama and disparaged his critics – implying that the Democrats own Dr. Martin Luther King jr. It was sad to see a man’s memory used to gain cheap political points. I expected as much from Obama, and I was not disappointed. But from King’s sister and the other civil rights leaders taking partisan shots at a national event?
I never met Martin Luther King jr, but I hope that he would be the kind of man who would bristle at seeing a solemn event used for petty political gains. Perhaps I’m wrong and I’ve been raised to honor an illusion, or maybe those who claim the mantle of Dr. King are simply not worthy to wear it.