This past weekend I had the pleasure of checking out the new Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, DC. While I had already heard about several controversies surrounding the monument, I was excited by the mere prospect of an African-American man having a permanent presence on the national mall. Permanent as in like…forever. Not even Barack Obama has that much power yet. The country could decide next year that our love affair with the president is over, and he could very well fade into the oblivion of one hit wonder presidents that didn’t make the second round. However, Dr. King’s legacy has etched itself into American history with a permanent marker and this recent memorial is further confirmation of this reality. No man who did not serve as president of this country has ever had a monument on the national mall, but Martin Luther King, Jr. was never interested in following the rules, so it’s only fitting that he be the first to break this tradition.
The monument itself is powerfully understated and peaceful. Its composition was inspired by a line from his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered 48 years ago during the March on Washington: “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” You enter the memorial on a path cut through a large rock, which represents the mountain of despair he spoke of. The stone of hope is Dr. King whose likeness in my opinion was spot-on and captured the stern yet peaceful disposition we have grown so familiar with in the footage from the civil rights era.
However, there are many people who have taken issue with several characteristics of the memorial, including the legendary Maya Angelou, who claims that the omission of words from one of his quotes makes him sound like “an arrogant twit”. Some disagree with this stance, saying his folded arms are too passive or that the “strong look on his face” is uncharacteristic of his personality (what did they want, a weak look? How are you supposed to march for justice looking scared like you stole something from the corner store?) Others have gone as far as complaining about the suit he is wearing.
Seriously people? There is a memorial on the national mall in our nation’s capital of a Black man. A thick-lipped, hair-like lambs-wool, black coffee no sugar no cream, 100% African-American man. And we are going to fight over his clothes? This man probably couldn’t use the same bathroom as white men if he dared to visit the national mall as a young boy and is now immortalized in stone with his own memorial for visitors from around the world to experience.
I think in this “post-racial” age of President Barack Obama, we as African Americans can get beside ourselves and forget how far our culture has come in a civil rights struggle that has spanned several generations. Before we pick apart every detail that failed to meet the unattainable standard of perfection, we should collectively take a deep breath and appreciate what has happened on the National Mall in Washington, DC. In light of the racially tense scene of police, protesters, excessive security and hate that probably surrounded his infamous speech 48 years ago, I think it’s safe to say that at our current President was correct in a more recent speech in proclaiming that change has finally come to America.
What do you think? Did they get it right? Does the monument meet your expectations? How do you feel about Martin Luther King, Jr. being chosen as the first African American memorial on the national Mall? Who else is worthy? Does it matter that the sculptor is not American?