The Many Disappointments With the MLK Memorial


It was disappointing that the dedication of Martin Luther King Jr’s Memorial was postponed because of the hurricane, but almost as disappointing is the memorial itself. Considering that this memorial marks the first private citizen and not a President, to be honored in this place, I was very interested in how it would turn out.

Why they chose a man from China to be the sculptor is beyond me. I cannot imagine why they would choose a man from a country whose human rights abuses are something that MLK himself would be disgusted by. They could not find a talented black American? I find that hard to believe. I also join many in being critical of the sculpture itself. Crossing arms is a physical way of cutting yourself off from those around you. It can be defiant, but it can also look arrogant. MLK was not that. There are beautiful photographs of MLK reaching out to crowds. He was accessible. The crossed arms and stern face is simply not representative of him at all in my opinion.

It gets worse in the quotes on the memorial. Can you believe they didn’t include one quote from his “I have a dream…” speech??! So ridiculous, I don’t have the words. Then they attribute a quote to him that originated with someone else. And the final insult, they paraphrase a quote that makes him sound, as Maya Angelo says, “an arrogant twit.”

As I have looked at the pictures of the 30 foot statue, I can’t help but feel we have disappointed Martin Luther King Jr. in far more important ways than a statue that doesn’t seem to represent him. I think Starla Muhammad says it better than I could:

In 2011 Black unemployment is a staggering 16 percent for Blacks, 42 percent for Black youth. Dr. King’s dream is still a nightmare for the poor and disadvantaged he fought so hard to represent.

If Dr. King were alive today to witness the ascension of the nation’s first Black president, would his happiness at Barack Obama’s achievement be overshadowed by the glaring realities of a country engaged in three wars; where over 14 percent of its people live in poverty, and where there are now more Black men in the prison industrial complex than were enslaved in 1850?

A recent USA TODAY/Gallup poll showed that a majority of Americans believe “King’s dream of racial equality has been realized.” In many ways it has. We have a black President. We have had black leaders from CEO’s to Supreme Court Justices. I think that most of us judge people based on character rather than skin color. There will always be those who only see the skin color, and there isn’t much we can do for them.

But the dream has failed in many ways as well. The unemployment for blacks is historic. The inner cities are full of failed schools, economic despair, drugs, and a loss of hope. The Jim Crow laws never did as much to harm blacks as these things.

If you have read me often, you know where I am going. The last thing King would have wanted is for blacks to be trapped in generational poverty dependent on the government to live. As I was discussing this last week with my friends, my eyes started to tear up. I thought I might cry right in front of them. I was thinking of MLK Jr and all those who gave their lives and sacrificed so much for blacks to be free, and how we opened one door in this country, and then seem to pull a trap door underneath their feet as they stepped though it. So many fell to the darkness below.

I asked my friends, both black and white, what they thought about the memorial. Most didn’t even know about it. The rest said they had heard about it, but that was about it.

I asked one of my good friends, a wonderful black pastor, how the Memorial made them feel. Darryl said, “Any and every memorial only reflects a time past. It doesn’t really live in the present.” He went on to say that it doesn’t change what we have here now. But he said he was proud of that MLK “was able to do what it took to do what needed to be done, and he did it with non violent means.” We talked about how those younger than us don’t relate much to history. I think that is true.

We have let MLK down by pretending that fools like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton somehow carry his torch. We have let him down by imagining that the NAACP or the Black Congressional Caucus does anything at all for the black community now.

As a child of integration, I thought I would feel pride at this dedication. I know Martin Luther King Jr wasn’t a perfect man. I know that, had he lived, I might not have agreed with him on other issues. He might have been wrong on other things, but he was right on this, on civil rights, and he paid the ultimate price for it.

It’s sad to me that the memorial seems to have passed right on by with few of us paying attention. It seems we never pay attention to things that really matter.

I was going back and forth with a black Democrat pundit who works for MSNBC on twitter about the state of the African American community. I told him that the sad thing is that my side doesn’t care, and his side is wrong.

The truth is that the black community needs another MLK. Not for civil rights. That is accomplished. But for hope, self love, encouragement, and focus on the family unit.

Where is that leader?

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