Statues honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. are a common feature in cities across the country, and increasingly, around the world. Last year in King's hometown, family members gathered at the Georgia Capitol to unveil a new statue that was a long time coming.
Here are some of the most notable MLK statues and some of the stories behind them.
GEORGIA CAPITOL: Three years after the project was announced, this statue of MLK was unveiled on the Georgia Capitol grounds on Aug. 28, 2017—the anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech. The 8-foot statue, one mile from King's birthplace, overlooks Liberty Plaza and stands uneasily beside a number of segregationists who are also venerated on the Capitol grounds. The project was championed by Gov. Nathan Deal and Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), who stands center in this photo, with his hand on the statue. The Legislature approved the tribute as long as no taxpayer funds were used. The original sculptor, Andy Davis, died before the project could be completed. He was replaced by Martin Dawe, who based the pose and likeness on a famous photo of King walking with Bayard Rustin in Montgomery, Ala.
ATLANTA: "Homage to King," by Barcelona artist Xavier Medina-Campeny, was installed at Boulevard and Freedom Parkway right before the 1996 Olympics.
MOREHOUSE COLLEGE, ATLANTA: Denver sculptor Ed Dwight did this sculpture of Dr. King in the early 1980s. Dwight, who also composed the bronze sculpture of Hank Aaron outside Turner field, said that at the time, the King bronze was only the third sculpture he’d ever done. After he showed an early form of the work to Morehouse faculty who’d known Dr. King, Dwight said he had to make major changes to the work, some of which he does not agree with to this day. “But they were the client and I had to do it their way,” he said.
WASHINGTON, D.C.: King's statue on the National Mall was unveiled in 2011 with a bit of controversy. Critics complained that the 30-foot-tall White granite statue by Chinese artist Lei Yixin was too stern, too big in scale and too close in the Social Realist style. An investigation also found that the statue had been constructed by unpaid Chinese laborers. Another part of the artwork, the "Stone of Hope" seen in the background, originally had an edited version of King's famous "drum major" quotation carved into it. Planners had tried to fit the quote onto the stone by making it shorter, but ended up changing its meaning. Once it was decided that the carved quote could not be replaced, it was removed entirely from the stone in 2013.
WASHINGTON, D.C.: This bronze MLK bust joined the likes of Lincoln and Washington in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in 1986. It was unveiled on the occasion of King's 57th birthday.
CHICAGO: Fair housing was a Northern as well as a Southern cause. In the early 1960s, Chicago, with its heavily segregated neighborhoods, became a target of the Civil Rights Movement. King and the SCLC made a tumultuous stand in the Windy City which inspired the Fair Housing Act. To honor the campaign, Chicago artist Geraldine McCullough was commissioned to create a memorial to King. She chose to depict him as an African king of Benin tribal origin. He’s adorned with a dove of peace, a sword and a rendering of King’s Nobel Prize. Erected in 1977 outside Martin Luther King Plaza Apartments, the statue stood until it was moved into storage about four years ago, its concrete base crumbling. McCullough later created another sculpture of King for Springfield, Ill.
SPRINGFIELD, Illinois: In 1988, Geraldine McCullough completed this bronze of King, a realistic portrayal of the man as a young activist, his collar open, suit jacket slung over his shoulder. This piece is on the Illinois capitol grounds in Springfield. Like other sculptures of King, however, over the years it has been vandalized.
ALLENTOWN, Pennsylvania: This piece, dedicated in 2011, is believed to be the only one in the world that depicts both Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King. In it, the couple marches forward, eyes on the horizon, her hand grasping the bend of his arm. An Allentown community activist named Harry A. Roberts spent 15 years trying to bring a statue of the King couple to his hometown, but he died three years before the statue was unveiled in the park that now bears his name. The sculptor, Ed Dwight, has done at least eight sculptures of Dr. King, from Denver to Allentown. Dwight was an advisor for the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C., before he left the project and became its biggest critic. Among his criticisms was the sheer scale of the project. He said it didn’t show King’s humanity. (Mark Luethi Photography)
PUEBLO, Colorado: You’d think a pairing of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Emmett Till, would make for a powerful monument. But what got Coloradans talking about the piece when it was originally placed in a Denver park, was the less than life-like rendering of King by the late sculptor Ed Rose. (Rose died in Loganville, GA, in 2009). What really bothered people was the size of King’s head relative to the rest of his body. According to an obituary for Rose in the Denver Post, the foundation that commissioned the piece was so disappointed in the statue it refused to pay Rose. (He got his $35,000 payment after suing the foundation). The piece was so polarizing that it was eventually moved into storage then to a cultural center named for King in Pueblo, Colo. Denver eventually commissioned a new sculpture of King by Ed Dwight. Dwight’s version is thought to be the largest rendering of King outside Washington, D.C.
DENVER: Standing on the shoulders of greatness; that’s the theme Denver sculptor Ed Dwight had in mind when he designed this multifaceted monument in Denver. All of the people depicted toward the base of the sculpture influenced King in some way and were champions of human rights: Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Mohandas “Mahatma” Ghandi and Rosa Parks. The bronze and granite work was dedicated in 2002 and stands in the Denver City Park.
SELMA: "Selma" director Ava Duvernay didn't want her depiction of MLK to resemble a statue, so we can only wonder what she thinks of Selma's actual King statue, in front of the Brown Chapel AME Church. (Duvernay made sure to film around the statue for a scene that took place in front of the church.) The church was the local SCLC meeting place during the Civil Rights Movement, and was the starting point of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches depicted in the film.
BIRMINGHAM: The MLK statue in Kelly Ingram Park has special significance. The park sits across from the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four girls died in a 1963 firebombing. The park itself was the staging ground for several of Birmingham's largest Civil Rights Movement protests, and where Public Safety Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor notoriously turned firehoses and police dogs on protesters. No wonder King seems to solidly stand his ground in this statue.
TUZLA, BOSNIA: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Those words, by Martin Luther King, Jr., are inscribed on the pedestal of a statue outside the city hall of Tuzla in Bosnia. The bronze on granite bust was a gift of the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo to the country that had come through a horrific period of war and genocide. It was dedicated in 2003.
PENSACOLA, Florida.: Kennesaw State University professor and sculptor Ayokunle Odeleye, consulted with Dr. King’s oldest daughter, the late Yolanda King, for this bust dedicated in 1993. Odeleye, who has created major public art works across the nation, said Yolanda King visited his studio at least twice to look at the image before it was cast in bronze and to make suggestions. Odeleye said she told him she wanted input because she had gone to unveilings of other monuments to her father, looked at the sculptures and said “Now who is that?”
CHARLOTTE: Once described as the "world's worst Martin Luther King statue" in the book "North Carolina Curiosities," this statue in Marshall Park continues to attract snarky criticism. Martin Luther King, Sr. must have thought something of it, however -- Daddy King was present at its dedication in 1980. The sculpture was created by African-American artist Selma Burke, who also designed FDR's portrait on the dime. You can see examples of her work at Spelman and Clark-Atlanta.
LONDON: This MLK statue is carved above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey. It's one of ten statues of 20-Century Christian martyrs that were added to the curch in 1998. Queen Elizabeth II presided over the unveiling.
TOLEDO: This might be one of the more unusual monuments to King. “Radiance” by the late Wil Clay and Constancia Gafeney-Brown, is 6 feet of bronze and stainless steel. King has a different expression on the four faces protruding from the stainless steel globe. The globe reflects the face of the viewer and, according to Clay’s obituary the viewer’s reflection is to be a reminder that “we are all one people.” But since its dedication in 1989, the piece has been defaced with paint at least once. The pedestal is inscribed with excerpts from King’s speeches. Ironically, Clay, a children’s book illustrator, was honored in 1993 with the American Library Association’s Coretta Scott King Honor Award. The honor was for his work on the book, “Little Eight John.”
RALEIGH: This life-sized statue in the MLK Memorial Gardens sits on no podium. It's literally down-to-earth, so that anyone can touch and interact with it. The memorial also includes a bubbling "water monument," next to King's quote, "... until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a might stream."
ROCKY MOUNT, N.C.: This might be the most contentious statue of King ever cast. From the minute the statue was unveiled in 2003, it seemed to split the little town -- were King first spoke the words “I have a dream”-- in two. People said it looked nothing like King. Residents wanted a replacement. The statue was taken down. Another artist was drafted to create a new statue (before and after models shown here, with the new on the left). Nobody liked his draft either. Finally, in 2007, the Rocky Mt. City Council voted to reinstate the original statue in a city park.
AUSTIN: In 1999, The University of Texas at Austin became the second campus in the U.S. to have a statue of MLK. The first was King's alma mater of Morehouse.
SAN BERNARDINO, CALIF.: When this 11-foot-tall statue was erected in 1981, it was the world's first larger-than-life statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. After more than 30 years of standing in front of the city's Civic Center, the statue was recently repaired when cracks started to show. Now that it looks as good as new, civic groups have plans to add educational elements to the monument.
INDIANAPOLIS: The "Landmark for Peace Memorial" in MLK Memorial Park depicts King reaching out to Robert F. Kennedy. In 1968, Kennedy spoke at the site after the death of King.
WHITE PLAINS, New York: This 12-foot-high MLK statue was unveiled in 2007. A youthful-looking King is holding a book in his left hand. What's he reading? The sculptor was quoted as saying that it "could be a Bible, or it could be whatever you think it is."
JACKSONVILLE, Florida.: This 8-foot, 6-inch bronze statue was unveiled on the University of North Florida campus in 2012. King himself would have appreciated the fact the same artist, Indian sculptor Jasu Shilpi, had already created a statue of Gandhi next to it.
The 2018 documentary 'The Last Days of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.' on Channel 2 kicked off a countdown of remembrance across the combined platforms of Channel 2 and its partners, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB Radio.
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