MLK Memorial set for today
Washington (CNN) — The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial is set to be officially dedicated on Sunday, with lingering controversy still surrounding both the statue and a quote from King.
The monument to the slain civil rights leader was due to have been unveiled on August 28, the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington when King delivered his world-altering “I Have a Dream” speech, but Hurricane Irene forced the event to be postponed.
Perhaps, said the Rev. Bernice King, one of King’s daughters, that postponement was due to divine intervention. “Perhaps God wanted us to move beyond the dream into action,” she said.
“As we dedicate this monument, I can hear my father saying that oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever,” she said. “The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself … I hear my father saying what we are seeing now, all across the streets of America and the world, is a freedom explosion.”
She called for “a radical revolution of values and reordering of priorities in this nation.”
She urged attendees to also pay homage to her mother, Coretta Scott King, who even as a grieving widow with four children “raised a nation in my father’s teachings and values. It was vitally important to her that his life and principles become institutionalized.”
President Barack Obama was expected to speak at the ceremony Sunday.
The memorial site, which features a striking 30-foot statue of King gazing out on the iconic Tidal Basin, lies between the Lincoln Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial on the National Mall. The statue, representing a “Stone of Hope,” sits forward from a “Mountain of Despair.”
Visitors pass through the mountain on their way to King’s statue and an expanse along the Basin rimmed with an inscription wall covered with stone carvings of some of his most famous quotes. The four-acre area will also feature the iconic cherry blossom trees that draw thousands of tourists to the Mall each spring.
King’s son has praised the memorial.
“The very first time that I came to the site, I was almost overwhelmed,” Martin Luther King III said. “I really was impressed by this artist. He was able to capture the essence of my dad.”
On Sunday, he described his father as “a champion of human rights and social justice for all people,” regardless of race, gender and ethnicity.
“Let us not forget that he paid the ultimate price for our civil rights,” he said.
But, he said, “we’ve lost our souls,” noting the recent killing of a black man in Mississippi; child bullying; wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the lack of social and economic justice. The American dream, he said, has “turned into a nightmare for millions.”
Sculptor Ed Dwight, who has made seven statues of King, objects to the memorial’s depiction of the icon — and to the artist chosen to create it.
“This idea of having this 30-foot-tall sculpture of this man, and this confrontational look, he would not appreciate that, because that was not him,” Dwight argues.
He also objects to the choice of Chinese artist Lei Yixin.
“I feel strongly that the whole thing should’ve been done here in America,” Dwight said.
Harry Johnson Sr., head of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Foundation, said: “We got the best man for the job.”
And Lei, for his part, said America did not have sole claim on King.
“Martin Luther King is not only a hero of America, he’s also a hero of the world,” he said.
Celebrated poet and author Maya Angelou has a different objection to the memorial, saying that one of the quotes has been edited to make King appear arrogant.
It reads: “I was a drum major for justice peace and righteousness.”
Angelou says an important clause was taken out of the passage from a 1968 sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
King’s original words were: “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.”
Leaving out the “if” changes the meaning, Angelou said.
“It should not be seen like he was so full of himself. Because he was not. He was a very humble man,” she said. “It is not an apt reportage of what Dr. King said. It is an edited statement.”
The memorial’s executive architect Ed Jackson stood by the wording and said there are no plans to alter the structure.
Jackson, who oversaw the memorial’s design and construction, said in a statement issued that the memorial foundation “feels comfortable with the choices we needed to make based on the space available and the messages that we wanted to convey to visitors.”
He said a “council of historians” had been consulted, adding they suggested 14 quotations and two statements for possible inclusion on the monument’s granite walls that “best characterize and reflect” King as a leader as well as his values.
“In no way do we believe that this paraphrased statement diminishes Dr. King’s intent of the words he delivered,” Jackson said. “The inscription on the Stone of Hope comes directly from Dr. King’s words.”