Setting MLK's words, and likeness, in stone
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Monday, Aug. 22, 2011, in Washington, D.C. The monument to the civil rights leader will be dedicated this weekend. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
On the 48th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s immortal "I have a dream" speech, America honors the man behind it ... an event, Rita Braver now tells us, literally SET in stone:
It's been 27 years in the making - 27 years since a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was envisioned, the first major memorial ever built on Washington's National Mall dedicated to a man who was NOT a President.
Situated directly across the Tidal Basin from the Jefferson Memorial ... looking right at the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument.
Harry Johnson, President and CEO of the Memorial Foundation, says it's not about what job Dr. King had, but about his place in history:
"Here's a man who stood for some lofty goals and actually changed America," said Johnson. "That's why we built this memorial."
Johnson, and others who led the drive to get the memorial built, belong to Alpha Phi Alpha, the fraternity King joined while a graduate student at Boston University.
"The fraternity helped actually bail him out of jail once or twice," Johnson said.
Getting the Memorial built was a struggle in keeping with Martin Luther King's own story.
The project had to be approved by Congress, and supporters wanted it built close to the Mall where King led a quarter of a million people in the historic 1963 Civil Rights March.
But space on the mall is in high demand, and it took a battle with the commission that decides where monuments can be built in Washington to secure this 4 acre site near the Tidal Basin...
"We persevered and actually had to come to them as you have to do say, 'Here's why it could be done, here's where it could be done, and here's how it should be done,'" said Johnson.
In 1999 a design completion for the memorial was announced: 900 entries from 52 different countries, and an international jury pool decided which would be the winning solution.
The prize went to the ROMA Design Group from San Francisco. The design - a park setting with a major sculpture work in three pieces; The first two looking like a mountain that has split apart, echoing a line from King's I have a dream speech ...
"With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood."
And the third piece IS the Stone of Hope ... a statue of King himself, 28 feet tall. The man chosen to create all three pieces is Lei Yixin. He holds the title of Master Sculptor in his native China, where he did most of the work with a team of helpers.
The works were then shipped to the U.S. in 159 pieces and reassembled - more than 1,700 tons of granite in all.
Lei says he tried to present King as an unyielding man of courage who fought to give people power.
"Dr. King belongs to the world," Lei said through an interpreter. "He's a world-wide hero, and his spirit is universal."
But like so much of King's life, this sculpture has been a source of controversy, with some critics charging the work makes him look too stern - though it's based on the cover photo of King's autobiography.
There's also some resentment that the job went to a sculptor from China.
"What do you say to those who say it should've gone to an American, and preferably an African-American?" Braver asked.
"I say simply that Dr. King talked about how you should judge a person," Johnson replied. "He said, in his own words, we should not judge a person by the color of his skin but by the content of his character."
- Dressing down a culture for refusing to dress up
- How design colors the mind
- Mark Harmon, a hero on-screen and off
- Buildings: What's new is old
- Work spaces: Past and present
- The newest thing in architecture: Something old
- Sinkholes: The hole truth
- A nation of slobs?
- The modern midwifery movement
- The bells are still ringing, for the last 1,000 years
- Just the two of us: Childless by choice
- Against all odds
- Passage: Soap icon Jeanne Cooper
- The psychology of design and color
- Natalie Maines: Going solo with "Mother"
- The benefits of multi-generational homes