KING IS OURS
By Gilbert Young
& Lea Winfrey Young
One of the greatest men in history said if a man is not willing to die for something he is not fit to live. I believe that to be true. In today’s society, standing up for a belief—especially if it seems politically incorrect—can be the same as dying. As a professional who just turned sixty-six, I know that to be true. Still, I’m willing to yell at the top of my lungs my disgust at decisions made by the King Memorial Foundation.
It is a travesty of justice to have a man who has glorified Mao Tse Tung, which is Lei Yixin’s claim to fame, sculpt the centerpiece of the most important African American monument in recognition of the most important African American movement in the history of these United States.
Where are those who are supposed to protect the ideals and champion the cause? Among those pretending to be in charge are obviously too many who can not see the irony of this decision. I am appalled.
Is it that Alpha Phi Alpha, one of the country’s oldest African American fraternities, and the executive staff of the King Memorial project—also all black, and the Memorial Foundation Leadership, could not find one African American sculptor good enough to create a likeness of King? You best believe, there is not ONE national memorial, not ONE monument to a leader or historical event in China, Russia, France, Italy, India, Germany—go ahead and name them all—that has the name of an African American artist engraved in its base. It’s probably not that they don’t like us or appreciate our abilities. It’s that a commission of such importance is a legacy for a country and its countrymen. Why should the King Monument be any different?
There was an open call to compete for the development of the four acre King Memorial site. The ROMA group, headed by Boris Dramov initially won that honor. They were assisted with their entry by Dr. Clayborne Carson, director of the King Papers. They have since been released from the project. There was NO competition for the sculpting of the King statue. It has been said Yixin was recommended by his peers.
Here was the opportunity for a national monument to a Black man in Washington D.C., to be created, developed, designed, and executed by the best that African America arts and culture and development has to offer, a testament to all our own achievements as Black people who benefited from Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. There won’t be a second chance to make our first impression. Yet once again our worth is kicked to the curb.
The struggles for which King was murdered continue to this day. There may not be overt "White Only" signs, but the invisible boundaries still exist. There may not be black men hanging from trees lit by Klan fires, but nooses still hang from the trees. There may not be black men and women and children being hosed in their faces, bitten by dogs and dragged through the streets by police, but there are still black men and women and children being beaten by the onslaught of prejudice perpetuated by hate. I, for one, am not willing to bob my head and grin over the fact that a black subcontractor will be employed to move dirt for the King monument, or that a couple of black artists have been shifted into place “to consult on the project” for the sake of propriety. Nor will I allow my children’s children to visit a memorial that will not reflect African American art and culture and artistry. What was the Civil Rights Movement all about?
Lei Yixin is politics, and politics was not King’s way. We all know, as U.S. citizens, how much our government owes the rest of the world. But here’s the thing; the artistic accomplishments of African Americans has long been celebrated. We too have national treasures, and low and behold some of them are sculptors. More importantly, politics should not be allowed to SELL the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the historic impact of the Civil Rights. The freedoms and opportunities King envisioned for his people must be preserved.
For those whose only belief is that King belonged to the world—that his work, his words, and his stance was international in scope—you need only take a few moments to review history and read his speeches. In King’s “I Have A Dream,” the word Negro is written 14 times. There is no question as to who and what King’s focus was. Watch the films and look at the photographs that show what was going on in African America that prompted King to become the icon he became. King’s message became universal after his assassination because he spoke the truth.
As an artist, I stand against the decision to use an artist who has glorified a symbol of hate. I stand against the use of granite that is quarried using slave labor from a country with the worst human rights record in the world. African Americans have a right to depict the life and legacy of one of our most beloved leaders as WE saw him. When my protest began in February I believed I stood alone. Now I know I do not.