Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Martin Luther King "I have a dream"

It was on this day in 1963, 200,000 people participated in a peaceful civil rights rally in Washington, D.C., where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

How's this for Ironic?

Criticism Over Chinese Artist Being Chosen to Create Martin Luther King Jr. Sculpture

The choice of a Chinese sculptor to create a monument to Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., has drawn a growing number of critics who say a black artist should have been selected -- or at least an American. Some human rights advocates are also rejecting the choice, saying King would have decried the communist Chinese government's record on religious and civil liberty. Gilbert Young, a black painter from Atlanta, has started a website and petition drive to try to change the selection. He told AP, "I believe that black artists have the right to interpret ourselves first."

The memorial foundation seems surprised at the criticism, given the circumstances of sculptor Lei Yixin's selection and involvement. Ten of the 12 people on the committee that chose Lei are black, he's working closely on the design with two black American sculptors, and the overall project is being directed by a black-owned architecture firm. The foundation also points to King's words, which will be incorporated into the monument, that in order to achieve peace, people must, quote, "transcend race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective." Foundation president and CEO Harry Johnson also asked why Lei should be held accountable for his government.

Lei is designated a master sculptor by the Chinese government, and has carved monuments to many of the country's national figures, including Mao Zedong, the father of communist China.


At 1:07 PM, Anonymous Gilbert Young said...

For those who do not know me, I'd like to introduce myself (especially to the "Pe" who claims that Dr. King would hate me. I, of course, beg to differ). I am a 66 year old African American artist. My work is considered "socially conscious". For more than 50 years I've created artwork that glorifies the beauty, the history, and the culture of African American people. My work is sold in galleries and gift shops around the world. My pieces have been in movies, and used as set decorations on television shows. I have been commissioned by organizations nationwide to create commemorative works of art. Procter & Gamble commissioned me to create the Salute to Greatness Award presented annually by the King Center here in Atlanta.

I am old enough to have witnessed first hand prejudice, bigotry and Jim Crow, and I survived it with bitter memories. If you remember history you'll hear only truth when I say that African Americans are not native to this country. We are not immigrants. We did not choose to come here. Our ancestors were brought here by force. Our most indelible footprint in history has been that we as a people are the descendants of those who survived the horrendous institution known as the system of American Slavery.

There are those whose names run through the history books, Carver, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman and others. Their accomplishments are condensed into a sentence or two each February, "...one hundred uses for the peanut..."

But that changed nearly 8 years ago. A handful of black men went to Congress to ask permission to build a monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.--African American man and descendant of slaves. He would be immortalized in a national monument in the capitol city of what is known as the most powerful nation on the planet. His monument would stand throughout time on the National Mall among America's greatest statesmen. African American History would be important to our nation 365 days a year.

But through misguidance and greed and ignorance and apathy, a few folk decided to hand this most important commission, this most incredible honor of sculpting the centerpiece of the monument to an artist whose claim to fame are his statues in China of the mass murderer Mao Tse Tung. A deal was made for the stone for Dr. King's monument to come from China, quarried using slave labor. The workers have no rights and are not even provided proper masks to keep the killing silica dust from their lungs. No granite company in the USA was even allowed to bid on this project before it was outsourced directly to China. How do you think Dr. King would react to knowing a monument to him was being built with slave labor?!

The King Foundation board members have one answer, and one answer only, when asked how they allowed such decisions to go forward. They quote King's "I Have A Dream" speech about people being judged by the content of their character. But King used that quote a number of times. In the "Dream" speech the full quote is as follows: "I have a dream my four little children (that's Dexter, Bernice, Martin, and Yolanda) will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character". In his speech, "Where Do We Go From Here," the full quote is "Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character and not on the basis of the color of their skin."

It is interesting to see how King's words are edited, how the focus is shifted by those who want a particular picture of Dr. King to fit into a frame of their own making. King was talking about how black people were being treated back then, and are still being treated to this day. He was talking about how he hoped the world would change toward people of color. The word "Negro" is used 14 times in the "Dream" speech.

My favorite quote of King's, and the one that fits this situation perfectly is "Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat To Justice Everywhere." And people from around the world, of every nationality and creed, agree with me.

The artist the King Foundation has chosen, Lei Yixin, did not win any kind of competition. He is said to have been recommended by a group of his peers. In an article in the Los Angeles Times, he said he was napping in the grass and was approached by the members who offered him the job. Yixin said he had no idea how important the job was until he saw the plan. The truth is Ed Dwight was the original artist of record for the King monument. He's a black artist who has created monuments all over this country. Yixin was originally a subcontractor to the project until Dwight criticized his work. Then Dwight was kicked to the curb without courtesy of a phone call or letter in the mail.

It's true, Dr. King's hope was that someday black people would have the same opportunities as all other people. He hoped that African Americans would be able to attend the same schools, worship in the same churches, live in the same neighborhoods, get the same jobs for the same pay as others. Yet here is our very first (and last?) opportunity to display our culture and heritage in the first ever monument on our National Mall to an African American man and we're being told we're still not good enough. The King Foundation feels there is nothing wrong King's monument being "Made In China." We protest.

We as African American people DO care that someone who has sculpted memorials to a mass murderer has been given the honor of sculpting Dr. King. We won't allow someone from a communist country who knows nothing about the Civil Rights Movement, nothing about Dr. King, and nothing about what King stood for to have his named carved into Chinese granite in the first monument to an African American national hero in the history of this planet. When we say King Is Ours, we don't mean he belongs to black people. We mean he belongs to US. You and You and You are US.

King Is Ours
Gilbert Young
Lea Winfrey Young
& Hundreds of others....


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