Unless it's postponed by Hurricane Irene, which is bearing down on Chesapeake Bay, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is scheduled for dedication Sunday on the National Mall in Washington. Symbolism is everything when it comes to such memorials, and perhaps the stormy opening is appropriate for a monument that has undergone a quarter-century of battles over design, location and funding. But King's history suggests that ferocious winds and driving rain are no match for a man of granite.
As is always the case with new memorials built in America's highest-profile sculpture garden, there is plenty of controversy swirling around the King sculpture. Most of it centers on the fact that it was carved out of Chinese granite by Chinese artist Lei Yixin, with most of the work done at Lei's studio in Changsha. Some are irked that it wasn't made by an American artist — and more specifically, an African American. There is criticism that King looks slightly Asian, or that because he's sculpted in white granite rather than black, he appears white. King would be "turning over in his grave" if he knew his statue had been sculpted by an artist from a communist regime, Denver sculptor Ed Dwight told London's Telegraph newspaper. Maybe — or maybe he would have been thrilled that questions of ethnicity and nationality, and even the racial characteristics of his own likeness, were given so little consideration in a world whose racial vision is less constrained than in King's day, in no small part because of King himself.