People in Washington, D.C. will mark the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. today by gathering around the massive new, 30-feet-tall statue of the famed preacher and civil rights leader. Some people have complained about the new statue by artist Lei Yixin, saying it’s too big, or not in the right place, or the color is weird, or the artist should have been American, or an inscription is incorrect. One bizarre criticism is that the statue makes King look “too confrontational.” Never mind that the man’s whole life was devoted to direct confrontations with injustice, with a goal of making the injustice clear to all, specifically by the act of confronting it. So, long story short, those critics need to get a clue.
One thing the critics of the D.C. statue should be grateful for, though, is that at least the piece actually looks like Martin Luther King, Jr. That’s more than Charlotteans can say about the MLK statue in Marshall Park. Yes, this is our annual plea for someone — anyone — to please, please find a replacement for the Uptown statue of (supposedly) MLK Jr.
The sculpture, which looks as if some arbitrary guy is holding his hand out to check for rain, was created in the 1980s by then-80-year-old Selma Burke, originally of Mooresville and ostensibly the creator of the Roosevelt image on the dime. The MLK statue, and I’m trying to be kind here, sort of looks like Martin Luther King, but not really. Strangely enough, the statue is a dead ringer for a guy I grew up with named Hazel Willis. Hazel was a smart guy, and an African American, but that’s about as far as the similarities with MLK Jr. go.
The Marshall Park statue once inspired an unsuccessful effort to replace the head of the full-body sculpture, which, on top of its other distinctions, was named “World’s Worst Martin Luther King Statue” in Randolph County-based journalist and author Jerry Bledsoe's book North Carolina Curiosities
On MLK Day, it’s the right time for local government to spring for a better statue. Maybe they can pay for it with the budget from one of the swank parties planned for the Democratic convention. However they pay for it, they need to do it. If you honor someone with a statue, at least make sure it looks like the guy.