MLK Memorial Made in USA? Dream On.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has spoken from the heavens: I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

Don't believe me? Think about it.

On August 22, after a three-year delay, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial opened at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The next day, a 5.8 earthquake shook the very ground on which the new Memorial stood. I'm just sayin.'

And today, less than 24 hours before the MLK National Memorial was to be officially dedicated by President Barack Obama in a formal ceremony, Hurricane Irene intervened. Harry E. Johnson, Sr., president and CEO of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Foundation, issued this statement:

In consultation with the National Park Service, the Mayor’s office and FEMA, it is with a heavy heart and enormous disappointment that we announce, that in the interest of public safety, we are forced to change our plans.

Hmm. Perhaps Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has a message for Harry E. Johnson, Sr. and his colleagues:

I have a dream, and it doesn't include a 30-foot-tall likeness of me designed and made in China. Let my statue go.

Hey, it's possible.

Travel, if you will, back in time (cue wavy flashback lines). It's 2006. A group of master carvers from around the world have gathered in St. Paul, Minnesota, to create stone sculptures on the sweeping lawn of St. Paul College. For weeks, as artists carve and chisel away in the open air studio, potential buyers watch and evaluate. At some point, Lei Yixin of Changsha, China, carves, so to speak, a special place in the hearts of officials from the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project.

In February, 2007, those same officials joyfully announce that Lei Yixin of China has the unique talent required to do the job. Only he, they say, can create the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. for the new National Memorial in Washington, D.C. Only he has the skills required work with the particular granite that's indigenous to his homeland. Not stupid ol' American granite. Superior Chinese granite.

Over the following months, word of the China/ MLK project travels throughout the land of the free, home of the brave. Criticism mounts. From The Washington Post (August 15, 2007):

Atlanta resident Lea Winfrey Young says the "outsourcing" by U.S. companies and organizations to China has gone too far this time. She and her husband, Gilbert Young, a painter, are leading a group of critics who argue that an African American -- or any American -- should have been picked for such an important project.

"Dr. King's statue is to be shipped here in a crate that supposedly says 'Made in China.' That's just obscene," Winfrey Young says.

A former adviser for the memorial has accused the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation Inc. of promoting Lei to head artist in the hopes of getting a $25 million donation from the Chinese government to make up for a shortfall in funding. In a 13-page critique, Ed Dwight, a sculptor who has created seven King memorials, called Lei's proposed statue a "shrinking, shriveled inadequate personage."

Shrinking, shriveled inadequate personage? Ouch. On November 28, 2007, The San Francisco Chronicle clocks in:

The California branch of the NAACP has joined a growing protest against the selection of a Chinese artist to sculpt the tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. planned for the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The monument, expected to be finished by April for the 40th anniversary of King's 1968 assassination, has overcome many approval hurdles in the past decade. But now it faces criticism by black artists, American granite workers and others who are angry about the sculptor chosen as the lead artist, both because of his nationality and his history as an artist. Protesters also say American granite rather than Chinese granite should be used for the sculpture.

The California NAACP is the first chapter of the civil rights organization to pass a resolution condemning the choice, calling it a decision 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 and civil rights abuses in the world."

Lei is "renowned for his many sculptures and busts glorifying Mao Zedong, murderer of 70 million innocent Chinese, which is in direct opposition to Dr. King's philosophy and to the ideal of positive social change throughout the world," states the California organization's resolution, passed last month.

In addition to the concerns over the alleged civil rights violations, protesters say an African American artist should have been commissioned as the lead artist.

Despite the above objections--whether for the love of a Chinese artist or love of the People's Republic of China's potential money--the project moves ahead as planned. We are, after all, a free nation; free to do as we choose. Free to act like our own worst enemy.

So ends our flashback. At last week's unofficial opening of the Made in China MLK Memorial, news reports / camera lenses focused on various tourists who were moved to tears by the beauty of it all. Over there, in the camera-free background, those who'd been unhappy before were now even more so. And those who, like me, were clueless before have since joined the ranks of the offended. How can this be, we wonder, in outraged blogs across the fruited plain. But it's too little, too late. The Chinese statue's place in American history is, well, set in stone. At what price?

According to The Christian Post:

The Chinese stonemasons who erected the monument worked free of charge. When The Washington Post asked why they would agree to no pay, one worker replied, “to bring glory to the Chinese people” and to work for “national honor."

There's a fine line between stonemasons working "free of charge" and stonemasons--determined to stay in their government's good graces, intimidated / frightened beyond measure--working as slave laborers. Free at last? Not in the People's Republic of China. Which brings me back to earthquakes, hurricanes and messages from MLK.

But the truth is, unlike lesser people (me), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would not have wished earthquakes, hurricanes or any other disaster upon those who disappointed or angered or even endangered him. His own words stand as testament to that:

Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.

Thanks for reminding me, Dr. King. And congratulations on your long overdue place, proud and tall, along the National Mall.