Born in Atlanta, killed in Memphis and made in China.
It might not be the most likely of locales to be associated with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., but the monument to him revealed this week on Washington DC’s National Mall has some rather peculiar ties to the Far East that’s now causing a controversy.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was designed and sculpted by a Chinese artist using Chinese materials and designed in China. It was eventually transported in pieces to America to be assembled, but only with the aid of a team of Chinese stonemasons who were flown in specifically for the job. Stateside, the masons worked free of charge to erect the monument and when asked by the Washington Post why they accepted the job on pro bono terms, one worker said “to bring glory to the Chinese people” and to work for “national honor.”
Edward Jackson Jr, executive architect behind the monument, added to the Post that the memorial’s sculptor, Lei Yixin, wasn’t chosen over money issues but because of his talent and capabilities. “Not only did we need an artist, we needed someone with the means and methods of putting those large stones together,” Jackson said. “We don’t do this in America. We don’t handle stones of this size.”
Some critics believe that the job could have been done domestically, and that by using materials from the hometown of Martin Luther King or having more from the legion of unemployed Americans working towards completing the monument would have been more appropriate than outsourcing.
Elsewhere, those behind the monument are receiving criticism for selecting a Chinese sculptor for what some say was an issue of money. One African American sculptor, Ed Dwight, says he was told by the backers of the MLK Memorial that they were hoping that choosing a Chinese artist would persuade the Chinese government to give them upwards of $25 million to reach their fundraising goal. Speaking to The Telegraph, Dwight adds that King would be “turning over in his grave” if he knew that his monument was made in a communist country.
While King fought most of his life for equality, the FBI suspected him to have Communist ties of his own in the 1950s. Former FBI director J Edgar Hoover actually ordered an investigation of King but decades later they revealed that they could not officially link him to any communist groups.
There is at least one solid connection between communism and the MLK memorial, however. One of Yixin’s most notable works on his resume include a sculpture of Chinese dictator Mao Zedong. Yixin says he has also fashioned a bronze bust of US President Barack Obama, which he intends on giving to the commander in chief.