Faith and Politics at King Dedication

Faith and Politics at King Dedication

I haven’t yet read complaints that The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial dedication ceremony was a dangerous church/state hybrid, but surely those will come as the event felt, to some, like a mix between a church service and a political rally, with thousands in attendance and multitudes more (myself included) watching on TV. &

Worship in Action

“With all the smiling and handshaking going on, you would swear you were at church, welcoming the visitors after the morning’s announcements. But if you closed your eyes and listened, you would think you’d landed at a campaign event,” wrote Kenrya Rankin at Loop21. “We might have been there to honor the legacy of a black leader of days gone by, but the legacy of the black leader of today loomed large.”

Likewise, Religion News Service’s Adelle M. Banks said the event blended worship and a call to action. “Held during the traditional Sunday morning worship time, the ceremony featured choirs, gospel artists Mary Mary, and Aretha Franklin singing one of King’s favorite hymns, ‘Precious Lord,’” said Banks. “More than 200 churches contributed $1.8 million to the $120 million memorial, for which $117 million has been raised.”

Political and Partisan?

Dignitaries’ response to the ceremony “was enthusiastic but slightly reserved,” according to The Root’s Cynthia Gordy. But the reaction of those gathered on the National Mall was “more emotional,” she said. “During the president’s speech, which visitors could see on two jumbo screens flanking the stage, chants of ‘four more years’ erupted from the crowd.”

This was a problem for Christian Post reporter Napp Nazworth, who described the dedication speeches as “highly partisan” and noted that many connections were made between King’s legacy and the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement.

March to the Library Instead

In a slightly sardonic nod to the event and the OWS movement, Washington Post local columnist Courtland Milloy advised D.C. school children to overcome by marching to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library to devote themselves to academic excellence.

“Long after Occupy DC has decamped from the city and the protests over economic inequality have faded from memory, you’ll still have to occupy those classrooms and continue to struggle against educational inequity,” said Milloy.

More Complaints About Missing Words

Perhaps taking a cue from poet Maya Angelou, two men complained about missing words on the monument.

Your Black World coalition founder Dr. Boyce Watkins, who declared in advance of the ceremony that that he wouldn’t attend, yesterday criticized the memorial for failing to include the words racism and black.

“I am not surprised that in a nation where discussing racial inequality is politically costly, that this issue would be left off the table,” said Watkins. “If Dr. King had not been a Black man in America, he would never have become Dr. King.”

And, noting the faith that motivated both King and that the Civil Rights Movement, Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition in Washington, D.C, issued a press release complaining that God is absent from the monument.

“Not to include any mention of ‘God’ in the quotes at the memorial is a betrayal of the life, legacy and teachings embraced and lived by Dr. King. I think he would have been stunned and disappointed to see this oversight.”

What do you think?

Did the dedication ceremony strike an appropriate “walk the talk” tone or was it an uncomfortable mix of church and state? Does the monument itself accurately reflect King’s legacy or is it hindered by its location on public land?

King Memorial Controversy Continues

King Memorial Controversy Continues

Does the King Memorial Make Him Sound Arrogant?

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial that was unveiled last week came under fire first for appearing too Asian. Now poet and author Maya Angelou says a quote inscribed on the statue makes the humble pastor sound too arrogant.

“If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice,” King told Ebeneezer Baptist Church two months before he died in 1968. “Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

“The sermon was so powerful that the designers of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington selected those lines to be inscribed on the memorial’s towering statue of the civil rights leader,” The Washington Post reported today, but a design change led to a paraphrase instead. The inscription on the side of the statue reads: I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.

“The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit,” said Angelou, who consulted on the project. “He was anything but that. He was far too profound a man for that four-letter word to apply.” Ever the wordsmith, Angelou added, ” The ‘if’ clause that is left out is salient. Leaving it out changes the meaning completely.”

Angelou isn’t the first writer to make this observation. Last week, Washington Post editor Rachel Manteuffel voiced a similar complaint. “An ‘if’ clause is an extraordinarily bad thing to leave out of a quote. If  I had to be a type of cheese, being Swiss is best,” she wrote. “I say, let’s undo the mistake. Let’s get the chisels back out. Let’s remember the words he chose and not let this be one more way we’ve failed King.”

Should Rev. Billy Graham Get a Statue Too?

“Not now,” wrote Charlotte Observer journalist Tim Funk at his Funk on Faith blog, but after Graham goes to his heavenly reward “a statue of this Charlotte-born evangelist — pastor to presidents — would be a popular addition to Our Nation’s Capital,” Funk said. But the U.S. Capital would be a more appropriate location than the National Mall, which he said should be “reserved for titans who profoundly changed America: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR and MLK.”

Funk chose the capital building because each state is allowed to donate likenesses of two of its native children and he thinks two former North Carolina governors have had their day under the dome. There’s precedent too. Hawaii, California, Utah, and Illinois have all donated statuary of religious figures, said Funk.

What do you think? Does the King paraphrase make a humble preacher sound arrogant? Should Rev. Graham be similarly honored?

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Opens

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Opens

It was 1984 when members of Martin Luther King Jr’s fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, conceived the idea for a memorial to the iconic civil rights leader. Today, their dream became reality when the King memorial opened to the public on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

Let the Celebration Begin

Urban Faith will be there Sunday when the memorial is dedicated, but the five-day Week of Dedication begins Wednesday with a formal dinner, followed by a concert Thursday, a women’s luncheon Friday, a Kennedy Center celebration Friday night, and a youth event, a Dream Gala and a prayer service Saturday. Tickets to these events can be purchased on the memorial website.

Sunday’s dedication begins with a musical tribute at 8:30 a.m. The dedication ceremony is scheduled for 11:00 am, and a concert is slated for 2:00 p.m. Sunday’s events are free and open to the public.

Update: At 7:30 p.m. on August 25, the memorial foundation announced that the dedication ceremony will be postponed until a date in September or October due to severe weather concerns. Saturday’s 10:00 a.m. prayer service will be the final dedication event this week.

Verbal and Virtual Tours

In an extensive report about the memorial, The Root described it like this: “Bordering Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, a 30-foot granite sculpture of the prominent civil rights activist looms. It’s flanked by a crescent-shaped wall inscribed with 14 excerpts from some of King’s most notable sermons and speeches. Further enhancing the site are 182 cherry blossom trees, which will reach full bloom each April, the month of King’s death. And the memorial’s street address, 1964 Independence Avenue, references the 1964 Voting Rights Act, a milestone of the civil rights movement.”

Diversity Debuts at the Mall

“This is going to be a first in two different ways — it’s the first memorial on the National Mall to honor a man of peace, and a man of color,” Harry Johnson Sr., president and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, told The Root. “Now the Mall as we know it, the great land on which we honor our heroes, will be diversified much like this country.”

Controversy Dismissed

But the monument has not been without controversy, The Huffington Post reported last month. Not only is it 11 feet taller than the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, but members of the sculpting community have objected to the choice of Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin, who they say made King’s features appear too Asian. King’s son Martin Luther King III told USA Today, however, that the memorial is a better reflection of his father than most of the ones he’s seen.

Rep. John Lewis Reflects

NPR was there when when the scaffolding around the memorial came down and talked to Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who spoke at the March on Washington in 1963. “I was moved to tears,” said Lewis.

The Anniversary of a Dream

Four hundred thousand people are expected to attend the dedication, according to The Huffington Post. It will be held on the 47th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

What do you think of the King memorial and its significance? Will you attend the celebrations?