The MLK Memorial's Complicated History
After 15 painstaking years and some heated controversies, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington makes its debut.
Clint Button, a South Carolina granite carver whose family has worked continuously in the U.S. granite industry for 120 years, contends that the project could have very well been made in America. "Granite is about form, not about color. It's a complete misrepresentation for them to say that it needed to be done overseas," Button told The Root. He and hundreds of other granite workers have protested the King memorial, partially because of the negative impact that imported stone is having on the U.S. granite industry. With frequent outsourcing to China and India, many companies have been forced to lay off workers or shut down entirely.
"We can't work for $1 or $2 a day," Button said, referring to low-cost Chinese granite -- and the human rights concerns tied to it. "My family and the unions fought for safety regulations, none of which exist in China. You see [Chinese miners] wearing little masks or cloth over their faces, but all that does is filter out the big pieces that get stuck in your nose. The deadly dust goes straight into your lungs."
Despite the King memorial's completion, Young and Button continue to speak out against it, now desiring for the sculpture to be torn down and started anew. "This is the most disappointing thing in life for me, to be 70 years old and see that my fellow artist brothers never had an opportunity to show their wares," said Young. "That's the most important piece of artwork to ever come from the black community in Washington, D.C., and it was made in China."
A Dream Realized
Needless to say, the memorial foundation has no plans to tear anything down. With thousands expected at the memorial on Aug. 28 for its official dedication ceremony -- including President Barack Obama, Aretha Franklin and Jamie Foxx -- Jackson is anxious to unveil what he says has been a labor of love.
He recalled a conversation with Coretta Scott King, who served as the chair of an honorary committee for the memorial and died in 2006, shortly after the design was unveiled. She'd expressed disappointment at some of the representations of her husband around the country, which to her never captured his likeness.
"The image that we chose is one that, from our point of view, presents Dr. King as a philosopher of ideas, someone who was strong in his belief of what America stood for and where America should be going," said Jackson. "The goals he set have not been reached, but we have a memorial that allows us to champion his message, so that we don't forget to pick up where he left off in trying to make the world a better place. The promise I made to her sitting at that table was, 'Mrs. King, I promise you, I will not let you down.' "
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.