Where Monuments Stand Still

Jose Vilson Jose

Martin Luther King Statue, National Mall, Washington DC

A few weeks ago, The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Committee sent me a mailing about the new memorial off the Tidal Basin in the national mall near the Jefferson Memorial, across from the FDR Memorial, and a little walk from the Lincoln Memorial. They asked me, and I assume plenty others, if I would donate some amount of my funds to this dedication. I read the letter and felt awesome that I’d be part of some historical moment in a time when historical moments seem to come a dime a dozen.

Yet, something told me to do a little research, and surely enough, Google returned a list of issues I didn’t feel comfortable with. First, the King family wanted some percentage of the funds from the donations since the Memorial’s using the father’s name. That wouldn’t be a problem, except that the memorial doesn’t really “make” any money, so it’s rather questionable ethically. Secondly, the model of the statue, a rather lovely dedication, came from an Asian sculptor, who some advocated immediately criticized since they felt the committee should have chosen a Black sculptor instead. Plus, looking at the donations list, it’s intimidating for a man who barely makes a liveable wage would not have an equal share in making history with donors who can chip in 5-to-6-digit donations. And all this dedicated to a practical socialist and avid follower of Christ, the most famous socialist we know.

This makes sense when we think about King and Christ as a whole, never mind the serendipity of Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection a little less than 2000 years ago, and the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination 42 years ago falling on the same day.

We can argue day and night about the merits of either men and whether to remember their deaths so passionately. For many, the mention of Jesus Christ evokes controversy from folks who either still the degree to follow his teachings or even his very existence. Similar controversies come from reading and watching King’s work. From his college plagiarism to his ungracious adultery, King’s contradictions make even the ardent disciples wince. I can’t get over the fact that the people in charge of interpreting their teachings and works often dilute them in order to pacify the masses.

One thing we can’t dispute is that these contradictions also give their students ready models for how to lead their lives in spite of their own humanity. In the pursuit of happiness, they had quite a few missteps and life got in the way of their perfect plans.

It’s also the way I feel about the national memorial. I still don’t know whether I’ll donate, even if I know how important the monument is for this country to acknowledge its most racially underrepresented citizens. It’s crazy how legacies can be represented by monuments that stand so still.

Jose, who actually went to Mass this weekend …