Published on Thursday, January 18, 2007
Does it, or doesn't it look like King?
|Staff photo by David Smith|
|When sculpting the statue, artist Stephen Smith, above, said he wanted to capture the oratorical delivery of King’s speeches, with an intense set of eyes, an open mouth and an outstretched right hand.|
“There’s always someone who will say it out loud,” I said to the woman in a low voice.
The new statue of Martin Luther King Jr. off Blue Street is commanding.
The 8-foot bronze figure, standing tall behind a railing, dominates the sparse surroundings of the park named for the civil rights leader.
The only problem is the statue does not really look like King.
In talking with folks, the going opinion is that the facial features remind one of actor Danny Glover of “Lethal Weapon” fame. Glover is an activist in his own right. Among other activities, he led the longest student strike in the country’s history. But then that has nothing to do with King.
King’s statue not being the spitting image of King has not been a part of the public discussion, but in private, many have said that Marshville sculptor Stephen Smith shot wide of the mark.
At the unveiling Monday, which fell on what would have been King’s 78th birthday, the crowd oohed and ahhed as the sheet fell away. This is natural, to ooh and ahh when something hidden is revealed, almost no matter what is beneath the sheet.
From where I was standing, to the side, I caught the statue at its worst angle in terms of its resemblance to the man whose picture we all have seen a thousand times.
Next to me, a tiny pecan-colored lady, wrapped in the assuredness that only comes with age, said plainly: “That don’t look like him.”
We turned to look at her. I noticed not disapproval in the eyes of those around, as you would expect, but instead a relief that someone had voiced what we were thinking, and thank goodness it did not have to be one of us.
I laughed weakly.
|Staff file photo|
|Artist Stephen Smith works on a clay sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr. last year. |
She said, in a clear, louder voice: “That don’t look like him.”
The statue’s eyes are the most problematic.
To be sure, the statue misses in other ways, too: The eyebrows and the mustache are too bushy for King; the face is not as full; even the nose is not quite right. This seems the least excusable of Smith’s missteps. Most black folks, you’re safe if you go with some sort of flat nose, except for Michael Jackson, and we all know what happened there.
And the eyes. On the statue, they are inexplicably wide and they seem angry. They are fiery, to be sure, but King’s eyes burned with a different sort of fire.
King’s eyes were implacable, both an irresistible force and an immovable object. Steady. They accepted no more excuses from the segregated South of King’s birth.
Those eyes were resolute as they stared down Bull Connor in the schoolhouse door, George Wallace on the
statehouse steps and crashed headlong into what King called in his most famous speech the forces of “interposition and nullification.”
|Staff photo by David Smith|
|An 8-foot bronze statue of King was unveiled Monday at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park off Blue Street.|
When southern ministers in 1963 wrote King in a Birmingham jail and said blacks could wait a little longer for their rights, King shot back: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
And you could just see his eyes as he wrote the historic words.
Not a disaster
Our King statue is far from a disaster. In Rocky Mount, residents decided to take down their King statue after a sustained protest over the likeness that began when it was built in 2003. We are not there, by a long shot, and I’m not just saying that because our project cost
$300,000 in hard-earned, private funds.
|Staff file photo|
|Artist Stephen Smith works on the sculpture last year.|
The statue looks like he could be a member of King’s family, if not King. Maybe a cousin or a nephew.
Moreover, the park and statue captures King’s essence.
I went back Wednesday, on a day that was finally a proper January day with cold, biting winds. The statue is better appreciated far from the madding crowds.
You could hear the American flags behind the statue beat a drumbeat in the wind and enjoy King’s impressive height.
I doubt King would have been much for statues being built for him, but I do believe he would have appreciated our statue’s location.
The park is at a nexus of the past and the future, the work done and the work to be done. King faces the back of the old, rusted out African-American school — made obsolete by the integration King and others fought for. Behind him are a church cultural center, which was recently a senior citizens home, and public housing.
King, in his later life, had shifted the civil rights struggle to the poor and to laborers.
The MLK park’s location is a reminder that a good part of his dream has yet to be realized.
Columnist Myron B. Pitts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3559.
|AP file photo|
|Martin Luther King Jr., who would have turned 78 Monday, was assassinated April 4, 1968, at a Memphis, Tenn., motel.|
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