'White' Martin Luther King Jr. Scandal Shows We're Behind the Times

Martin Luther King Jr National memorialIt was supposed to be a new day for race relations in America. Martin Luther King Jr. finally got his memorial on the national mall in Washington, D.C. The man we will forever remember as the face of the civil rights movement has joined the likes of Lincoln and Washington in being immortalized in the heart of our nation's capital. So why are we still talking about the color of the man's skin

It seems a blogger at the Daily Beast started the outcry today with his assertion that the sculptors chose a "granite with a striking resemblance to pale, freckled skin." That's right. Martin Luther King Jr., as he stands in Washington today (although he won't be "open" until this weekend's official ceremony), is a white guy. Blake Gopnik's rambling attempt to cast the National Park Service and other builders behind the monument as racist covers a lot of ground.


He says the stone carving of Dr. King is not just too white, but also too small, and reeks of Communism (the stone came from China, you know). With each charge, Gopnik digs himself a deeper hole. I don't think the people who created the memorial to Dr. King are racist. Point of fact: they created a memorial to the man on the national mall. They don't do that for just anyone. That's proof positive that they are aware of his worth to the nation.

And yet, the fact that the color of the stone used is an issue is proof that we need a monument to Dr. King today. Because people still care. Whether they want to or not. Whether it's a real issue or not. They have to stop and think, "Hey, did they mean to be racist? Maybe? No? OK."

The final decision on this should be that the builders were doing what they thought best. Black granite, they said, would not have been seen at night.

But still, the question was posed. And it couldn't be ignored, cast aside, immediately discarded because of the era in which we live. It's not a "post-racial" America. It's a getting there America.

They say you can't please all of the people all of the time, but this was a memorial that required its builders to do just that. It was a nearly impossible task. This was the sort of memorial that needed to be treated sensitively. Dr. King doesn't merely represent a moment in our nation's past. His voice echoes in our heads as we look to the future. He said it himself in his I Have a Dream speech: "As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead." His is a memorial that's meant to keep us marching to a day when we can separate the mystery of a person's intentions from the facts of the case.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. earned a memorial on the national mall because of who he was, not despite it.


Image via YouTube

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