Accuracy in Media

A Washington Post columnist has criticized the new Martin Luther King, Jr. monument, while his paper is publishing a 24-page special supplement hailing the unveiling of the “Stone of Hope” in the memorial that includes the 30-foot tall statue of the civil rights leader.

Black columnist Courtland Milloy writes, “Let’s face it: There really is something peculiar about having an artist from communist China sculpt the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial statue. And, yes, it would have been fantastic had an African American sculptor been chosen instead.”

He adds, “The sculpture is based on a 1966 photograph of King taken in his office in Atlanta, standing at his desk, with a picture of Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi on a wall in the background. In it, King has soft eyes and an open face that conveys the blessed assurance of a man who walks by faith. Lei Yixin has turned those eyes into something of a steely squint. The result is a stern colossus, dressed no less in a style of suit similar to ones found on many statues of Stalin.”

Milloy goes on to complain about the fact that the sculptor and the monument are from China. He writes, “…the fact remains that Lei hails from a country that oppresses ethnic minorities, exploits its workers, and jails human-rights activists and the attorneys who try to defend them. In their day, King and civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall would likely have been taken by the Red Guard and never heard from again.”

The Red Guards were Mao’s representatives who would beat and kill people and destroy property in the name of revolution. One of their slogans was, “Smash the old world; build a new world.”

Interestingly, the 24-page special supplement in the paper quotes Yixin as saying that he recited King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in college in China. However, one article about King’s global influence, “In many cultures, his message resonates,” actually does note that “In China’s Tiananmen Square, student leaders held up signs that read, ‘We Shall Overcome,’ a key anthem of the civil rights movement.” The article, by Emily Wax, doesn’t explain that estimates of the number of dead peaceful protesters at the hands of the regime in that 1989 demonstration for human rights range from several hundred to thousands. Thousands more were injured or arrested.

Back in 2008, another Post columnist, Marc Fisher, complained that the planned monument depicted King “in the arrogant stance of a dictator, clad in a boxy suit, with an impassive, unapproachable mien, looking more like an East Bloc Politburo member than an inspirational, transformational preacher who won a war armed with nothing but truth and words.”

Fisher reported that Harry Johnson, president of the King Memorial Foundation, had “argued that hiring a sculptor from China, even if he is a Communist Party member whose works include tributes to Mao Zedong, is ‘no different from the Houston Rockets working with Yao Ming, or Jackie Chan in Hollywood movies.’”

But Fisher didn’t buy it. He wrote, “It is simply wrong to have outsourced both the sculpting and quarrying of the granite—and especially to China, a country whose government during King’s lifetime called him a ‘reactionary running dog’ for his advocacy of nonviolent protest. China even now stands firmly against King’s vision of an open, free society in which power flows from below and people are cherished as individuals, not defined by group identity.”

The Post special section includes a full-page color poster of the memorial. Ads celebrating the memorial and highlighting the dedication ceremony on Sunday come from such companies and groups as AARP, Prudential, British Petroleum, Macy’s, Toyota, the  National Council of La Raza, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Tommy Hilfiger.

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