Thursday, January 19, 2012

MLK Memorial: Plagued with Controversy

Ever since the announcement came through that Martin Luther King Jr was receiving a memorial at the National Mall many, including me, believed it was a long time coming. An individual who worked so hard to achieve freedom and equality for all in this country and sought to make this world a better place deserves to be remembered by all who tour the capitol of the United States. Tragically the memory of King has been stained with controversy after controversy since the beginning not making it worth the wait.

It started with the King family and their company Intellectual Properties Management. This organization has sadly spent years capitalizing off King’s name and reputation rather than believing that his words and inspiration are meant for the betterment of all mankind. They expected the Memorial Foundation to pay them handsomely for the rights to use King’s image and his quotes on the memorial. This process delay design and construction. Various individuals spoke out against this idea believing that if no one is making money off the memorial then why should they receive a fee. Despite that the Associated Press reported that the King family negotiated a licensing deal of nearly $800,000 in order to build this memorial. How ridiculous is this? In order to honor one of the country’s greatness individuals we have to pay someone to use his likeness and words. One can not help but question the motives of the King family and their desire require a license for this memorial.

In 2007, it was announced that a Chinese sculptor had been designated as the creator of the King memorial. This turned out a massive outcry and as human rights activists pointed out the sculptor had also sculpted an image of Mao Zedong. Gilbert Young, an African-American sculptor and artist, created a website dedicated to protesting this decision. He believed that African-Americans should be designated as the designer and builders of the memorial. Sadly for the most part this fell on deaf ears. And to add salt to the wound the foundations attempted to appease the protests and state that local builders would be used for the project however when it came time for everything to start, Chinese builders were used, most of them brought over from China to work only on this project.

Finally the most recent controversy is over a quote placed on King’s memorial which was changed and made him look like “an arrogant twit” according to Maya Angelou who was a consultant on the project. The quote from King originally said "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." However they paraphrased the quote on the memorial and wrote "I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness." Not the greatest phrasing of words for someone who appeared to be very humble and unselfish individual.

It is frustrating to think that the Memorial Foundation would make so many wide ranging mistakes. I question if back room deals were made with Chinese officials to appease them in some way because we can see that it was done with the King family. Personally I feel like it is an embarrassment to the American people and the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. that so many terrible decisions were made in the making of this memorial. I would almost hope they would destroy this current memorial and try again from scratch because I feel like a better, less obtrusive, on could be made. 

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