Tag Archive | "Martin Luther King"

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Malloy: Ring Bell to Honor MLK’s Famous Speech

HARTFORD — Gov.  Dannel P. Malloy is asking residents and organizations to ring bells at 3:00 p.m. on Aug. 28 as part of a nationwide commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s renowned “I Have a Dream” speech.

“Dr. King’s message of freedom, equality and liberty resonates as strongly today as it did fifty years ago,” Malloy said.  “Never before has a single speech had such a dramatic and positive impact on our nation.  Let’s honor the message of Dr. King’s speech and the many civil rights, labor and religious organizations that organized to spread his words.  Let’s not take for granted all that they fought so hard for.  Especially now, at a time when some states are pursuing new laws that constrain the fundamental right to vote, we cannot forget that the fight for equal opportunity, equal justice, and an equal voice in our democracy never ends.”

King’s family, in cooperation with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, is inviting every state in the nation to participate in this date of remembrance by ringing bells in unison at churches, schools and other venues where bells are available.

The organization on Wednesday will host a “Let Freedom Ring” celebration at the Lincoln Monument in Washington, DC, where they will lead the nationwide bell ringing.


Governor Malloy has also issued an official proclamation to commemorate the occasion.



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The MLK Memorial’s Complicated History

By Cynthia Gordy, Contributor

This week, the National Mall’s latest commemorative work opened to the public: the long-awaited Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. Thousands are expected on Aug. 28 for its official dedication ceremony — including President Barack Obama, Aretha Franklin and Jamie Foxx

Bordering Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, a 30-foot granite sculpture of the prominent civil rights activist looms. It’s flanked by a crescent-shaped wall inscribed with 14 excerpts from some of King’s most notable sermons and speeches. Further enhancing the site are 182 cherry blossom trees, which will reach full bloom each April, the month of King’s death. And the memorial’s street address, 1964 Independence Avenue, references the 1964 Voting Rights Act, a milestone of the civil rights movement.

“This is going to be a first in two different ways — it’s the first memorial on the National Mall to honor a man of peace, and a man of color,” Harry Johnson Sr., president and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, told The Root. “Now the Mall as we know it, the great land on which we honor our heroes, will be diversified much like this country.”

Creating a permanent tribute to the globally revered icon, one that captures his vision of freedom, opportunity and justice for all Americans, was a tall order, to say the least. Despite critics who have assailed its decisions along the way — from the artist of the sculpture to the design and the granite used — the team behind the project feels certain that it got it right.

“Next to Obama’s inauguration, a few funerals and weddings, this is perhaps the largest event to happen in the past 50 years to people of color in this country,” said Johnson. “I’m excited to know that children, people who knew Dr. King and others will go past it, and they will get the same feeling that everyone gets when they see it for the first time — a shock and awe.”

The Making of a Monument

The vision to build a national memorial for Martin Luther King Jr. was initially conceived in 1984 by Alpha Phi Alpha, the African-American fraternity of which King was a member. Congress authorized the memorial in 1996, and two years later the Alphas set up a foundation to manage fundraising — to the tune of $120 million — and design.

We didn’t want it to just be a monument or a statue, but a living memorial,” said Johnson. “It was important that it tell a story, so that people could walk through and read the words of Dr. King and have those words still have relevance today.”

By 1999, armed with that perspective, the foundation launched an international design competition. The call yielded more than 900 entries from 52 countries. In keeping with the global premise, submissions were judged by a panel of 11 architecture and fine arts professionals from the United States, India, Mexico, China and France.

Ed Jackson Jr., the memorial’s executive architect, explained that the team took an international approach from the start. “When I pulled together the programming committee, we reviewed and listened to the words of Dr. King over and over,” he told The Root. “We would have these long discussions on what the memorial should be about, and we came to the conclusion that Dr. King was talking about humanity, and not just civil rights. From that standpoint of humanity, it took on a larger, global perspective, as opposed to just focusing on what was happening here in the United States.”

An entry by ROMA Design Group, a San Francisco-based architecture firm, was selected as the winner. Based on a line from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech — “out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope” — the design’s central component is a boulder sliced into three pieces. The two sides represent the proverbial mountain of despair, and the form of King emerges from a stone of hope that has moved ahead and apart from the other pieces.

With a design picked, the foundation set out to find its artist. In 2006 a search team traveled to St. Paul, Minn., for a stone-carving forum that was attended by sculptors from all over the world. “Simply put, our task was to find the best person to do the job, regardless of their country or state of origin,” said Jackson.

There they met Lei Yixin of China, who they ultimately decided was that person. One of a small group of artists designated as “master sculptors” in his country, Lei had already carved more than 150 large public statues. “Readily I could see that I was standing before someone with exceptional talent,” said Jackson, who was also impressed by Lei’s experience and confidence in carving stone on a monumental scale. “I didn’t say good; I didn’t say great. I said exceptional.”

Several months later, after visiting Lei’s studio in China, where he presented different models of the sculpture — including, to their surprise, a full-scale, 30-foot replica — the team offered Lei the job.

Who Owns King?

The choice of Lei immediately raised objection from various quarters. One of the most vocal critics has been African-American painter Gilbert Young (http://gilbertyoungart.com/), best-known for his signature work, He Ain’t Heavy. He argues that a black American sculptor should have been awarded the opportunity.

“The struggle of Dr. King was not his struggle alone. He represented our community over years of injustice in this country,” Young explained to The Root. “He and my people who supported him did it here on American soil. It is a part of American history.”

Young added that there were African-American sculptors who were more than adequate for the job. “Mr. Johnson said that he wanted to get the best. The best is always debatable, especially in art,” he continued. “I would think that they’d have had enough sensitivity to understand that what we really wanted was fairness and the opportunity for us, as the people, to show our artistic gifts.”

Of this particular grievance, Johnson said that his team simply has a different point of view. “We weren’t looking at Dr. King, the African-American leader; we were looking at Dr. King, the international leader,” he said. “My response to critics who question why we chose a Chinese sculptor is Dr. King’s words themselves, that we should not judge a person by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

However, doubt over a Chinese artist’s interpretation of King’s legacy isn’t the only reason that Young and others oppose the selection of Lei Yixin. Prominent human rights activists Harry Wu, who spent 19 years in a Chinese prison, and Ann Lau, chair of the Visual Artists Guild, have also taken issue with his body of work. Among the statues that he produced at home are more than a dozen icons of authoritarian ruler Mao Zedong.

“Mao Zedong had one of the most egregious human rights records in the world,” said Young. “If you’re selecting an artist to build a monument to fairness and justice, why would you select someone with no record of that on their résumé?”

In 2008 the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts expressed further reservations about the stylization of the King monument, maintaining that the sculpture’s colossal scale and character — arms folded, with a stern facial expression — was too “confrontational” and reminiscent of political art in totalitarian countries that has been pulled down.

Jackson, who consulted with the King family throughout the process, said that the bold representation was intentional. Out of four model heads with different facial expressions that Lei produced, King’s children all chose the final version as looking most like their father. Jackson recounted, “After Martin III indicated his selection, he said, ‘If my father were not confrontational, given what he was facing at the time, what else could he be?’ ”

Still, more controversy followed the memorial when the foundation announced that, rather than American stone, the statue would be carved of pink Chinese granite. Jackson maintained that they wanted a light color palette that would complement other monuments on the National Mall, a particular hue that he said they could not find among the gray and black granite in the United States.

Clint Button, a South Carolina granite carver whose family has worked continuously in the U.S. granite industry for 120 years, contends that the project could have very well been made in America. “Granite is about form, not about color. It’s a complete misrepresentation for them to say that it needed to be done overseas,” Button told The Root. He and hundreds of other granite workers have protested the King memorial, partially because of the negative impact that imported stone is having on the U.S. granite industry. With frequent outsourcing to China and India, many companies have been forced to lay off workers or shut down entirely.

“We can’t work for $1 or $2 a day,” Button said, referring to low-cost Chinese granite — and the human rights concerns tied to it. “My family and the unions fought for safety regulations, none of which exist in China. You see [Chinese miners] wearing little masks or cloth over their faces, but all that does is filter out the big pieces that get stuck in your nose. The deadly dust goes straight into your lungs.”

Despite the King memorial’s completion, Young and Button continue to speak out against it, now desiring for the sculpture to be torn down and started anew. “This is the most disappointing thing in life for me, to be 70 years old and see that my fellow artist brothers never had an opportunity to show their wares,” said Young. “That’s the most important piece of artwork to ever come from the black community in Washington, D.C., and it was made in China.”

A longer version of this article appeared on The Root.

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Church Celebrates Martin Luther King Day

HARTFORD — The Office for Black Catholic Ministries (OBCM) of the Archdiocese of Hartford will sponsor its sixth annual Mass in honor of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Hartford on Jan. 17 at 9 a.m.

“The Mass will pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who never abandoned his faith and fought tirelessly for racial equality through peaceful measures,” said Deacon Arthur L. Miller, Director of the OBCM.

It’s been nearly fifty years since Dr. King delivered his immortal “I have a dream” speech in front of 250,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and shortly after received the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee described him as, “The first person in the Western world to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence. He is the first to make the message of brotherly love a reality in the course of his struggle, and he has brought this message to all men, to all nations and races.”

Monsignor John J. McCarthy will celebrate the Mass, Deacon Miller will serve as homilist and music will be provided by the gospel choir of Saint Michael Church in Hartford.

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Beck’s Shameful Dishonor of King Nothing New for Conservatives

By Ofari Hutchinson, Guest Columnist

Glenn Beck is either a liar or was simply mistaken as he claims that he got the date confused. The date is August 28, the same date as the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington. This is the date that Beck picked for his “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington D.C. Beck says he had no idea the date is a sacred day for civil rights leaders, and that it was pure coincidence he’ll rally that day.

Civil rights leaders don’t buy it, and neither do I. The provocative, over the top, incendiary talk show host doesn’t do anything by accident. He always has a keen eye on anything that he does. One eye is on what will shock, grab, and infuriate the largest number of people. That always ties in to his eternal hunt for ratings, ratings, and more ratings. Ratings are the mother’s milk of cable talk shows. Beck has delivered them better than most.

His other eye is just as firmly on President Obama — or rather, on dredging up anything that can belittle, ridicule and mock an African-American president. There’s no better way to do that than mock the day that for a half century has been nearly universally recognized as the moment when the nation and the world became riveted on King and the civil rights battle in America. Beck knew what he was doing when he picked the date, and the day won’t pass without Beck and speaker after conservative speaker invoking the name of King and the civil rights movement to tout a hands-off government, unchecked free markets, non-interference in the affairs of private business, and their phony “color-blind” notion of civil rights. The day also won’t pass without Beck and other speakers making the preposterous claim that if King were alive today, he’d be quite comfortable attending their rally. There’s nothing new about this shameful distortion of King by conservatives.

Starting with Reagan, Republican presidents realized that they could wring some political mileage out of King’s legacy. They tried to recast him in their image on civil rights, and bent and twisted his oft times public religious Puritanism on morals issues to justify GOP positions in the values wars that they wage with blacks, Democrats and liberals.

With King safely gone for nearly two decades, Republicans in the mid-1980s eagerly grabbed at the famous line in his “I Have A Dream” speech at the March on Washington in August 1963, in which he called on Americans to judge individuals by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Those sentiments prove, Republicans claimed, that King would be on their side against affirmative action. During the fierce wars over affirmative action in the 1990s, King’s words were even more shamelessly used to justify opposition to affirmative action.

Even conservative black evangelists jumped into the act, staging a march to King’s gravesite to protest gay marriage, the implication being as a good Baptist minister, King would have been on their side. Coretta Scott King dispelled that notion by repeatedly issuing statements saying that she was a staunch backer of gay rights, and so would her husband have been.

The Republicans’ distortion wouldn’t have been possible if some of King’s pronouncements on religion and the black family did not superficially parallel GOP positions on crime, marriage, the family and personal responsibility. Republicans carefully cobbled together bits and pieces from King’s speeches and writings during the 1950s and early 1960s to paint him as anti–big government, anti-welfare, and tough on black crime, as well as an advocate of thrift, hard work and temperance.

The snippets of conservative thinking in King’s early musings blended easily with the social conservatism of many blacks. And this was more than enough for Republicans to say that Kind would have been a big player on the GOP team. Beck and company merely picked up this manufactured view of King to justify their embrace of him.

Beck’s best efforts to stir his legion of Tea Party into a frenzy would come to nothing if millions didn’t genuinely loathe Obama and his policies, and firmly believe that he has turned government into a monster that will turn their taxes into endless social programs that benefit minorities at the expense of hard-working whites. This is how hate-mongers on the right stoke the anger and alienation that many whites feel toward health care and, by extension, Obama. This translates to even more fear, rage and distrust of big government.

Glenn Beck’s rally is an outrageous and cynical ploy to hammer Obama. Beck can have it both ways. He can knock everyone else for playing the race card with Obama, while playing it hard himself with the timing of his rally. Leave it to Beck to find the perfect way to dishonor King.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson

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