MLK Memorial Unveiled to Cheers — And Criticism

Critics are unhappy Dr. King's sculpture was created by Chinese artist Lei Yizin in China.

By Jorge Rivas Aug 22, 2011

The Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial was unveiled today and will be dedicated on August 28, marking the 48th anniversary of King’s "I Have a Dream" in Washington, D.C. More than 25 years in the making, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial is the first on the National Mall to honor a man of color and the only one that’s not dedicated to a past president or fallen soliders. 

Visitors entering the King Memorial, which is set amid four acres of cherry trees on the northwest shore of the Tidal Basin, will be greeted by a 30-foot sculpture of Dr. King. The landscape design draws on four recurring themes throughout Dr. King’s life: democracy, justice, hope, and love. A 450-foot inscription wall also features more than a dozen of King’s quotes engraved into granite.

The unveiling did come with some controversy. There are critics who are unhappy the artist behind the MLK sculpture is Chinese artist Lei Yixin, who created the piece in China. They also say MLK’s 30-foot sculpture of him with his arms crossed is too confrontational and appears too Asian.

MLK’s son, Martin Luther King III, told USA TODAY that he likes the statue."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," King said. "This particular artist — he’s done a good job."

However, Ed Dwight, a sculptor in Denver who was originally slated to build the statue, said Dr King would be "turning over in his grave" if he knew his likeness had been conceived by someone living under a Communist regime.

"He would rise up from his grave and walk into their offices and go, ‘How dare you?’"

The tribute to King brings the number of memorials at the National Mall to nine. This is perhaps the final one.

The Commemorative Works Act passed by Congress in 1986 designated the central core of the Mall as a "substantially completed work of civic art" within which no further memorials will be erected, The Christian Science Monitor points out.