A Cultural Journal

    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Memorial Sculpture in Washington DC, by a Chinese Sculptor

    Written by: Shahida JJ - Posted on: November 05, 2012 | Post your comment here Comments | 中国 (Chinese)

    Google Translation: اُردو | 中文

    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Memorial Sculpture in Washington DC, by a Chinese Sculptor

    Washington, August 2011
    My friend Karin was driving me around and showing me Washington DC. The highlight was the much talked about new attraction in the city, a memorial statue erected in honour of the civil rights hero, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., open to the public that very day.  We arrived, and walked around, marveling at the creation of a great piece of art as well as at the large crowd of visitors, and the philosophy and history behind it. The unveiling was planned for August 28, 2011, 48 years after Dr. King’s stirring “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall, close to the same place where his own memorial now stands.

    Karin and I have visited again in August 2012, one year after its erection, and so have over a million people. It is the first anniversary of the Memorial’s unveiling.

    History behind the creation of the Memorial – Honoring Dr Martin Luther King Jr.:
    The memorial is situated on a four-acre site along the Tidal Basin, adjacent to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and shares a direct line of sight between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials.

    The monument features a landscape that encompasses the four recurring themes of Dr. King’s life: democracy, justice, hope and love, with the center piece of the memorial being the “Stone of Hope,” his image.

    Originally the unveiling had been scheduled for August 28, 2011, when 250,000 people were expected to attend, but the event had to be postponed due to the earthquake that hit the Northeastern part of the country, followed by the heavy winds of Hurricane Irene.

    It was inaugurated on October 11, 2011, by President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Rev. Jesse Jackson; thousands more attended.

    Biography of Dr. Martin Luther King
    Martin Luther King, Jr., (January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968) was born in Atlanta, Georgia. He later had his name changed to Martin. He received his earlier education in Atlanta, and earned his doctorate degree from Boston University in 1955. In Boston, he met and married Coretta Scott. Two sons and two daughters were born into the family.

    In 1954, he became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

    In 1957 he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement.

    The ideals for this organization, he took from Christianity; its operational techniques, from Gandhi. In the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; he also wrote five books as well as numerous articles. In those years, he led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that caught the attention of the entire world, providing what he called a coalition of conscience, and inspiring his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," a manifesto of the African American revolution. He planned the drives in Alabama for the registration of African Americans as voters, and directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people, to whom he delivered his address, "l Have a Dream."

    Time Magazine named him Man of the Year in 1963.

    At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize, for combating racial inequality through non violence. He donated the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights cause.

    His Assassination
    On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated. He was only 39 years of age.

    Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin is artist who created the the 30-foot likeness of King.

    Planning for the Memorial began in 1996, when the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, to which King belonged, was given permission to build a memorial to the late civil rights leader in the nation's capital, following approval by Congress.

    Aware of the fact that a 30-foot sculpture of Dr. King was to be the centerpiece of the memorial, planners had been searching for several years for a sculptor who could work on that scale.

    Chinese master sculptor, 57 year old Mr. Lie Yixin, comes from Changsha in Hunan province, and was named the head sculptor of the monument in 2007. In 2006, Lei was working in St. Paul on his "Contemplation" sculptures, a work that featured the use of Minnesota stone. The artists created works that, when finished, were placed in public locations around town. The Memorial executive architect saw him working in St. Paul and identified him as the head sculptor they had been looking for.

    Changsha is one of St. Paul's Sister Cities.

    Lei graduated from an art university in China in 1982.  He has created over 150 monuments, including two statues of Chairman Mao Tse-tung. He is an unassuming man, and spoke no English when first contacted by the architects of the Memorial.

    The 30 ft-tall statue forms the centre piece of a $120 million (£73 million), four-acre memorial to Dr King. It is the only memorial on the Mall that does not honour a president or fallen soldiers. Standing in the shadow of the Washington Monument is the Stone of Hope.

    The Monument:
    Each side of the Stone is inscribed with quotes from King such as: “Out of the Mountain of Despair”, “Stone of Hope’’, “I Was a Drum Major for Justice” and “Peace and Righteousness.’’

    How the Statue was created:
    The towering statue, designed by Chinese master sculptor Lei Yixin, is a reminder of the remarkable life of King who fought for the rights of African-Americans. It is viewed as a symbol of his global legacy.

    The likeness of the Statue is taken from a photograph of King in his Atlanta office.

    It has been carved from 159 pieces of pink Chinese granite

    Organisers of the Memorial said: "The decision had been made, even before Lei was chosen as the artist, to use a certain white granite unique to China, for the statue, as white rock shows up better than black rock at night. Chinese white granite is harder than American domestic variety, so it will last longer. The artist best prepared to work the hard Chinese rock is, not surprisingly, Chinese."

    Lei carved the statue in China, after which it was taken apart into 158 pieces - some weighing 1600 tons - like a jigsaw, and transported by ship from Xiamen to the port of Baltimore. It was reassembled on the National Mall by a team of 100 workmen, including ten Chinese stonemasons who were part of Lei’s team, and had been brought in specifically for the project from China.

    Even Martin Luther King III, Dr. King’s son endorses the likeness.

    "I've seen probably 50 sculptures of my dad, and I would say 47 of them are not good reflections — that's not to disparage an artist," the younger King said. "This particular artist — he's done a good job."

    Lei says: “Martin Luther King is not only a hero to Americans, he also is a hero of the world.”

    A few Passages from the “I Have a Dream” speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King at the Mall, Washington DC, August 28, 1963

    “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’

    “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

    “I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

    “I have a dream that my four little children 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.
     
    “I have a dream today!” ………..
     

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