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dwayne2006 11-27-2007 10:17 PM

Delegation in Vermont Protests Outsourcing of MLK Memorial
California NAACP, Black Artists Protest Asian Sculptor for King Memorial
Date: Tuesday, November 06, 2007
By: William Douglas, Special to

The California chapters of the NAACP have joined several black artists in protesting the selection of a Chinese artist as the lead sculptor of a giant statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, D.C, instead of a black artist.

In a unanimous vote two weeks ago, the California State Conference of the NAACP passed a resolution accusing the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation of "outsourcing" the statue project to China by awarding it to Lei Yixin.

The statue is to be the centerpiece of a $100 million memorial to King on Washington’s National Mall, near the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the Abraham Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. The slain civil rights leader will be the first person of color and first minister to be honored on the Mall.

The resolution says that Lei’s selection flies in the face of King’s beliefs because Lei sculpted numerous statues of the late Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong, regarded by some as a major human rights violator.

"The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation has chosen to outsource the production of the monument to Dr. King to the People’s Republic of China, the country with the worst record of human rights violations in the world, which is an affront to the ideal of human dignity," the resolution says.

"I’m glad the resolution happened. They (California NAACP chapters) were apoplectic – they did not know that this was going on," Gilbert Young told, an Atlanta black artist who pushed for the resolution, told "This is about legacy. Someone gave away our right to pay tribute to our history. This job, that opportunity, should have gone to an African-American to show that we can do it at this level."

The state conference seeks "to repatriate the proposed Monument to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from the People’s Republic of China by demanding that African-American Artists be named Artists-of-Record, and that American Granite is utilized," the resolution says.

Gilbert says he intends to approach other NAACP chapters across the country to pass similar resolutions and hopes the civil rights organization’s national chapter will do the same.

Harry E Johnson, president and CEO of the Martin Luther King. Jr., Memorial Project Foundation Inc., told that he respects the California NAACP chapters’ right to protest, but added that the groups don’t have all the facts surrounding the statue.

Johnson said Lei is part of a sculpting team and is working on one portion of the statue. He said that Jon Lockard and Ed Hamilton, two black artists, are working with Lei to ensure accuracy of King’s image.

Oversight of the project is being done by McKissack & McKissack, the nation’s oldest women/minority-owned design firm. In addition, 51 percent of the granite used for the statue will come from the United States, according to Johnson.

As for selecting a black artist to be the artist of record, Lei said his group is not going to name a black person just for the sake of naming them.

"In terms of African-American artists, Gilbert Young knows there are no African-American artists that work in stone on this massive scale," Johnson said. "I think we’ve done the right thing by being inclusive. I’m not going to put anyone’s name on the project who isn’t or can’t do the work."

Young and his wife, Lea Winfrey Young, have taken their battle against Lei and China to the streets and online. They created a Web site – – and mounted a petition drive. They’ve even enlisted Harry Wu, a civil rights activist who spent 19 years in a Chinese prison, to criticize Lei’s selection.

Gilbert Young is scheduled to hold a news conference in Barre, Vt., on Thursday with U.S. granite industry officials, Vermont lawmakers, and union representatives who also oppose Lei selection and the use of Chinese granite for the project. Vermont is one of the world’s granite capitals.

"This is about people not thinking," Young told of the decision to use Lei and Chinese granite. "In my opinion, this is about people who got drunk on power running this project."

King memorial project officials disagree with Young’s assessment. They say the flap is a culmination of passion over King’s legacy, bruised egos, and America’s current sensitivity over the illegal immigration and foreign-made products, particularly from China.

"King asked that individuals be judged by the content of their character – in this case artistic character – not by the color of their skin, religion, ethnicity or nationality," Johnson wrote in an opinion/editorial piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in August. "Wouldn’t we be going against everything that King stood for if we selected a sculptor based solely on the color of his/her skin or country or origin?"

But Ed Dwight, a black sculptor who was on the selection committee that picked Lei in 2006, questions the Chinese sculptor’s ability to accurately capture King’s likeness. After viewing small-scale models by Lei, Dwight complained that King’s clothes were too bulky, his eyes and mouth too sunken in.

"He (Lei) doesn’t know how black people walk, how they stand, how their shoulders slope," Dwight told The New York Times.

StevenW 11-28-2007 11:32 PM

Re: Delegation in Vermont Protests Outsourcing of MLK Memorial
Interesting post, but no great surprise.. When I first read the granite was being brought in from China and the sculptor too, I thought I smelled corruption. I'm no fan of the NAACP either, I think they're crooked, but I would point out that to do a national monument and outsource both the artist and the material is a shameful thing for this country to allow. I wouldn't expect GlennT to bid on and get the job to build the 500 ft. tall Budha in China either.. The notion that there's no black sculptor in the U.S. who has ever created a monument of this scale should make zero difference, my answer to that is: so what? Re design it if you have to, but find someone willing to do it and who will back up his work and get it done. This needs to be taken out of the NAACP's hands as well because they'll bungle the job and mitgate it away for the right price and it should be taken to a congressional level. What's next, Iran or Syria building the Iraq war memorial?

The philisophical arguments listed above are also pure drivel and smell of corrupt mitigation and bargaining for a mutually agreed upon price tag where everyone is happy. I say scrap the whole thing and get a congressional fund together and do it right here in the states with neither of the above parties having anything to do with it.

marblecutter 02-22-2008 08:24 AM

Re: Delegation in Vermont Protests Outsourcing of MLK Memorial
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I do not think that colour sould be a factor when selecting a sculptor. The problem in America is, we have the granite but why not the sculptor? The European sculptors who migrated to the U.S. do wonderful works for churches all over the world. We had a Broglum and a Houser who did the Mount Rushmore faces of the presidents. I am sure there are sculptors locally who can do the MLK monument. There is only one problem: How many of them knew about the memorial and were invited to compete? How did the distant Lei found out about this competition and sculptors in the continental U.S. were unaware?
There is nothing wrong with the selection already made. We as a nation must not be so self centered. Especially when the horse is already out of the barn. We should not close the door on China. We should treat people as MLK said, based on the content of their character, not by the colour of their skins. White sculptor, Yellow sculptor, Brown sculptor, Black sculptor, Green sculptor....what difference should it make? Why can't the same man who sculpted Mao sculpt MLK? Why does it have to be Vermont granite and not Yule marble?
The politics of art again.
If China was donating the sculpture as a gift, I am sure we would not refuse ;)

GlennT 02-22-2008 12:51 PM

Re: Delegation in Vermont Protests Outsourcing of MLK Memorial
Hey, I bet I could create a better 500 ft. Buddha statue in China than those guys!
How do you bid on that anyways?

Marblecutter: I love that photo. It's the closest I've seen to perfection in while!

StevenW 02-22-2008 03:45 PM

Re: Delegation in Vermont Protests Outsourcing of MLK Memorial
She's smokin hot, I'm jealous.

I agree on principle Claude that there's nothing wrong with picking anyone to do the work, red, green, blue or purple, who really cares. I disagree that it's okay, the selection already made in Lei. I'd like to know exactly how he was picked when no one I know had any clue about this even happening. was there any call to artists at all in the U.S. or was it simply presumed that no one was capable? I think there was no "selection" process and it was already predetermined, it sounds corrupt from the beginning or like some kind of smokey back room deal and they just tried to slip this in under the rug hoping no one would notice. There's no question U.S. materials could do the job (cheaper and better quality stone) and there's also no question that an American sculptor could perform the work, blue green, yellow, again who cares. The rest of their explanation/rationalization is pure drivel IMHO..

Yeah Glenn, I'm sure you'd do a better job, better comp and better execution, but quality don't mean crap in the face of bean counters and committees..

marblecutter 02-22-2008 03:57 PM

Re: Delegation in Vermont Protests Outsourcing of MLK Memorial
From an earlier post:

"MLK committee decides Chinese master sculptor is the right artist for the job
By Mike Xiong, Staff Writer

It was a nerve breaking wracking but exciting moment for Master Lei Yixin on Feb 15th at 10:30 a.m. in Washington, D.C. where the artist committee of Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Foundation was evaluating his replica and listen to his presentation on his artistic design.

Master Lei dressed in dark Asian styled suite, was well prepared but with possessed a certain degree of uncertainty. He was not very sure whether or not this the hearing would pass smoothly. It was a very rigid art evaluation process. Members of the artistic evaluation committee are nationally prominent artists and analysts appointed by the U.S. President. They command the power to say go yes or no go to any artistic project brought to the evaluation hearings. Any tiny imperfection will not escape their scrutinizing eyes. For this project that concerns U.S. national dignity and world influence, the standard must be second to none in the world."

StevenW 02-22-2008 04:25 PM

Re: Delegation in Vermont Protests Outsourcing of MLK Memorial
Show me the love Claude, what's wrong with this picture.. I googled "MLK Comittee" and got 1.6 million hits, which one are they? ;) The "staff writer" Mike Xiong? Is the MLK Comittee in China too? :)

Even I knew about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and offered my services directly to the chap who paid (donated) the block of Yule. I did so willingly for free and I would have been happy to be the mop bucket boy on that project, nevermind lead sculptor... I never heard a peep about MLK monument until it was a done deal and I'm not personally offended or anything, I just think it was fixed.

marblecutter 02-22-2008 07:03 PM

Re: Delegation in Vermont Protests Outsourcing of MLK Memorial
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Hi Steven,

I found a site that may clear some doubts.
The competition was wide open to the whole world.
900 entries were submitted and one was chosen in
the millennium year of 2000.
It will take one month for Master Lei to complete
the Mountain of Despair and the Stone of Hope
using 100 segments of granite for easy transport by ship.

Partial list of donors
General Motors $10,000,000
Federal Appropriation $9,852,876
In-Kind (Promotions and Marketing) $3,900,000
Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation $5,000,000
NBA $3,000,000
Procter & Gamble $2,600,000
The Walt Disney Company $2,750,000
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. $2,636,366
Coca-Cola Foundation $2,000,000
The Ford Motor Fund $2,000,000
Toyota $2,000,000
Verizon Foundation $2,000,000
GE $1,200,000
AARP $1,000,000
AFLAC $1,000,000
BP America, Inc. $1,000,000
CIGNA $1,000,000
DuPont $1,000,000
ExxonMobil Foundation $1,000,000
Fannie Mae Corporation $1,000,000
FedEx Corporation $ 1,000,000

StevenW 02-22-2008 07:18 PM

Re: Delegation in Vermont Protests Outsourcing of MLK Memorial
Thanks Claude, Okay,.. I'll eat my words about the conspiricy theory (they usually never are accurate and I should know better). I was under the assumption this was something that had been planned and delegated somewhat recently and indeed suddenly and I'm surprised I hadn't heard of it anywhere before, but I see it's been in the works for quite some time.

That to me makes a big difference.



StevenW 02-22-2008 10:30 PM

Re: Delegation in Vermont Protests Outsourcing of MLK Memorial
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Interesting, but those numbers don't surprise me and in fact, I am still skeptical about a few things, particularly about what this blogger points out as a missed opportunity..

Another picture and blog, about 1/4 down the page:


Quote Of The Day: Paint It Black Edition
"I believe that black artists have the right to interpret ourselves first. If nobody steps up to the plate to do that, then certainly pass it along to someone else."
-- Black artist Gilbert Young

Gilbert Young is so angry that he's started a protest Web site (King Is Ours) where he attacks another man because of his race, and attacks his brothers for making a decision that was not made on racial grounds.

Granted, it's a humdinger of an eyebrow-arching decision: The artist selected by the MLK Memorial Foundation to sculpt the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington DC is not black, not even American -- he's Chinese.

The foundation defends its selection:

The memorial foundation directing the project seems surprised at the criticism. Ten of the 12 people on the committee that chose the sculptor, Lei Yixin, are black. Lei is working closely on the design with two black sculptors in the U.S., organizers said, and the overall project is being directed by a black-owned architecture firm. (USAToday)

Lei Yixin apparently won the competition fair and square; he is after all, one of only nine artists in all of China who are considered "masters" by the government. As such, his commissions have included hero-statues for very unheroic men, men who have oppressed in the name of Communism.

I understand where Young is coming from because it would have been an uncontroversial decision to pick a black artist for the job, and we would have been treated to a great symbolic gesture as one of our most hallowed pieces of real estate -- between the Lincoln and Jefferson monuments -- was entrusted to the hand of a black artist.

Certainly, Young (see here for more samples of his work like the one above) has an easy point to argue and he argues it very well:

Is it that Alpha Phi Alpha, one of the country’s oldest African American fraternities, and the executive staff of the King Memorial project—also all black, and the Memorial Foundation Leadership, could not find one African American sculptor good enough to create a likeness of King? That’s crazy. You best believe, there is not ONE national memorial, not ONE monument to a leader or historical event in China, Russia, France, Italy, India, Germany—go ahead and name them all—that has the name of an African American artist engraved in its base. It’s probably not that they don’t like us or appreciate our abilities. It’s that a commission of such importance is a legacy for a country and its countrymen. Why should the King Monument be any different?
But his position ultimately is untenable against the teachings of Dr. King, who preached that America should be race-blind (among other less laudable positions).

More resonate than Young's are the complaints of Ann Lau and her comrades who push for human rights in China. Pointing to Yixin's statues of Mao and the fact that the MLK granite will be cut from a mine where worker's rights and safety are likely not high priorities, she said,

The whole thing is wrong. We are going to be permanently connecting Dr. King with someone whose ideology is totally opposed to Dr. King's ideology.
And that's where I settle on this: I would have preferred if the foundation had accepted a black artist, but given Dr. King's teachings, I can't fault them; and I understand that many blacks won't care one bit what one pampered white man has to say about it; and I think their judgment wouldn't score too high on Dr King's scale, and I believe in my heart that it is very wrong to do anything to glorify the current regime in China.

It would have moved Dr. King greatly if somehow the Communist functionaries were moved to change their ways when they first see Yixin's statue, but that most certainly is not going to happen, so the MLK Memorial Foundation ultimately has wasted a very important opportunity for positive symbolism.

StevenW 02-22-2008 11:07 PM

Re: Delegation in Vermont Protests Outsourcing of MLK Memorial
It's a tough call my friend, but looking at the gesture of the model more closely, folded arms, decent head, overworked drape on the arms and under worked on the suit and pants. In fact his legs look like stilts and the feet in the rock... well... I'd sure like to see even a handful of the other artists submissions.. Doubt that will ever happen though..

kraig 03-03-2008 02:11 PM

Re: Delegation in Vermont Protests Outsourcing of MLK Memorial

Originally Posted by StevenW (Post 53407)
It's a tough call my friend, but looking at the gesture of the model more closely, folded arms, decent head, overworked drape on the arms and under worked on the suit and pants. In fact his legs look like stilts and the feet in the rock... well... I'd sure like to see even a handful of the other artists submissions.. Doubt that will ever happen though..

Being from VT previously involved in the stone tool industry I may be jaded but something does smell fishy here. And I bet its a done deal.

If this guy does get the job I sure hope the hell he does as much study and work on numerous preliminary models like Dan French did with the seated Abraham Lincoln.

marblecutter 03-04-2008 10:04 AM

Denver MLK Memorial
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Denver Colorado's MLK by Ed Dwight
One of the sculptors who submitted proposals to the D.C. project.

GlennT 03-04-2008 10:51 AM

Re: Delegation in Vermont Protests Outsourcing of MLK Memorial
It's clear why that one didn't make it. All the visual excitement of a toll booth attendant!

I think the sponsors would have had their hands full with good options had Blake, Fritchie, Bernje, myself, Jamo, Tamara, and others on this forum been aware of the opportunity to compete.

marblecutter 05-11-2008 07:38 AM

Outsourcing Martin Luther King Memorial
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New lead on this controversy.
Can the U.S. commission of Fine Arts force a sculptor to change an accepted design proposal of a monument?
Will they ever be pleased even if changes are made?
Is this a ploy to get rid of the China sculptor?
Is it ethical to reselect a design from only the U.S. proposed entries?
The Art of Politics is at play again.

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