By Gilbert 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-five, I know that to be true. Still, I’m willing to yell at the top of my lungs my disgust at the decision made by the King Memorial Foundation to choose a Chinese artist to sculpt the image of Martin Luther King Jr., for the first ever national memorial to an African American man.
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 travesty of justice in having the “national treasure of China,” Lei Yixin—that’s Communist China—sculpt the center piece of the most important African American monument, in recognition of the most important African American movement in the history of the United States. A movement that never could have taken place in China. 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? That’s crazy. 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?
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.
So far, creating and developing the site of the King Memorial has gone to the ROMA Group, out of San Francisco, a group headed by Boris Dramov. The historic centerpiece of the King Memorial is supposed to be created by the Chinese guy. So let’s see—that leaves the digging and hauling, which in some folks’ eyes may be appropriate because this nation was built on the backs of Blacks. I, for one, am not willing to bob my head and grin over the fact that some Black subcontractor will be employed to move the dirt. Nor am I willing to 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 money our government owes the Chinese (and everybody else). 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 movement to the Chinese.
“The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by Lei Yixin”
Whose artistry and history will that plaque honor 300 years from now? The answer is NOT OURS.
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. 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. The images of “White Only” signs on drinking fountains and movie houses; scores of people marching and protesting bigotry, prejudice, Jim Crow, and segregation. Look again at the black men hanging from trees lit by Klan fires. See the young black men and women and children being hosed in their faces, bitten by dogs and dragged through the streets by police. Watch the men carrying out the bodies of those four little girls.
King’s message became universal because only the truly ignorant would not accept and acknowledge that all men are created equal and deserve to be respected and allowed the right to freedoms promised in this country’s Constitution. We are still fighting for those rights. King’s message may have been for everyone, but everyone wasn’t for King. He was killed for speaking up for black people.
And at this time, we are fighting for the right to interpret and present our own historic proclamation in this first ever national monument to a black man, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We as African Americans have a right to depict the life and legacy of one of our most beloved leaders as WE saw him.
As an artist, I stand against the decisions to use the Roma Group and Lei Yixin. When my protest began last month I believed I stood alone. Now I know I do not.
I am proud to announce that Mr. Young will be on my show “The American Muslim” Thursday night May 31st at 9pm ET and will be educating us on this situation among other things and taking your calls and questions.