Getting Comfortable With a ‘Confrontational’ MLK Statue

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post, May 21, 2008

We all should be able to agree that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was “confrontational.” He was also wise, measured, visionary, good-natured and generous of heart—like most great figures in history, he was complicated. But he didn’t ask for an end to Jim Crow repression, he demanded it; he didn’t request equal justice, he required it. Confrontation, basically, was the whole point.

The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts apparently believes otherwise and has kicked off a useful debate about how Dr. King is remembered.

At issue is the statue that will stand as Dr. King’s official monument in Washington. The arts commission, which rules on the aesthetics of such memorials, has sent a letter complaining that the depiction is “a stiffly frontal image, static in pose, confrontational in character.”

The arts commission is not comfortable with what Lei Yixin, one of China’s most celebrated sculptors, is concocting—a stern-faced, 28-foot-tall black man who has his arms crossed.

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Mr. Lei, the sculptor, is understandably miffed at the commission’s second-guessing, especially since the panel had approved the basic concept. He points out that the chosen pose comes from a famous photograph of Dr. King, standing—with his arms crossed—in front of a picture of Gandhi, who was his hero (and who, by the way, also was supremely confrontational).

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