Volume 15, Issue 2 ~ January 11 - January 17, 2007

Keeping the Legacy Alive

Through Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, through events, through pilgrimages, through education, this memorial can live.

Story by Ben Miller

Photos by Cathy C. Miller

Martin Luther King Jr. would turn 78 on January 15, but he never got that chance. Because of an assassin’s bullet, we see him — the man who marched civil rights into America’s living rooms — in perpetual middle life. Forever, he is 39 years old.

That’s about how old King looks in Maryland’s first statue of the American hero, whose birthday we celebrate as a national holiday this week. Dedicated last August 27 at Anne Arundel Community College, it is not quite the newest of the county’s five sculpture groups that stand as memorials to the achievements of African Americans.

The newest, a bust of businessman Wiley Bates, dedicated in September, honors a home-town hero, as does the oldest, a bust of physician-lawmaker Aris Allen. The other two — like the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial — honor national heroes Alex Haley and Thurgood Marshall. Supreme Court Justice Marshall, of course, was also a Marylander, born and raised in Baltimore.

All these statues share our public spaces; in death, as in life, they are with us, yet they rise above us (which is why statues are often elevated) to remind and to inspire us.

On the calendar, King’s birthday ushers in Black History Month in February. In honor of those dedicated times, over this week and next week, we look to these monuments and the stories they tell. For this community of statues, the common theme is overcoming oppression.

Martin Luther King at Anne Arundel Community College

At Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Martin Luther King rises high above us. Nine feet six inches and mounted on a five-foot granite base, this King is massive, as befits our state’s first memorial to the man who challenged America to fulfill the promise of the Declaration of Independence that All men are created equal.

Sculptor Ed Dwight of Denver has made a gesturing King, offering his left hand and holding a book in his right. He stands in the college’s west campus on a well-maintained terrace overlooking an outdoor amphitheater. Behind the statue, five bronze plaques mounted on a stone wall quote King’s speeches calling for equal opportunities in education and a just society.

A nine-foot-six-inch tall statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. overlooks the campus of Anne Arundel Community College. Five bronze plaques quote King’s speeches calling for equal opportunities in education and a just society.

Conceived and funded by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee chaired by Anne Arundel activist Carl Snowden, the statue is also a monument to hundreds of people and organizations that contributed time, energy and the $400,000 to raise it.

The committee launched the fund-raising effort on August 28, 2005, and welcomed the memorial to the community with an outpouring of pleasure and pride less than one year later.

The statue honors Martin Luther King, which is the first thing we must ask a memorial to do. It honors us as well, to have him here among us.

To those who remember the living King marching, moving and speaking, Dwight’s statue is not a good likeness. Face and body seem stiff. King was a handsome man, but more so in motion than repose. The sculpture captures his imposing presence, but not his energy and passion.

Nor does the memorial honor King as a leader whose power came from the people he led. Millions marched for civil rights, yet this is a solitary King.

Still, King’s statue, according to Snowden, has a larger purpose.

“Dr. King was an individual that all races can learn from and benefit from. He was a giant in American history,” Snowden said.

The memorial is placed here because King staged many events in Maryland: He was in Baltimore before his “I Have a Dream” speech on the National Mall in 1963 — and had a huge impact on the state, said Snowden.

Another reason for building a memorial at this community college is to teach students that King stood for resolving conflicts without violence. The second part of the memorial will establish a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Institute of Non-violent Studies, where students will learn the techniques of resolving conflicts by non-violent means.

For now, the memorial isn’t well placed to be part of everyday life. We don’t see it while driving or walking; we must make a pilgrimage to the college to see it. Even at the school, this King is away from the center of college life. It stands a bit lonely, even when class is in session.

This may change in the future as these college buildings receive more use. The memorial will become a destination. January 15 will see a pilgrimage there, as 700 people attend the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. annual breakfast at Anne Arundel Community College.

We build a memorial in the hope that it will keep the dust of disuse from obscuring the enduring contribution its hero made to our lives. We’ve all seen statues of generals, usually mounted, whose campaigns no longer stir our interest or even our memory. If this King — who made such a difference in our world, leading African Americans to full citizenship and awakening the consciences of us all — is to stir us, it will be by how this memorial is used. Through King’s quoted words, through events, through pilgrimages, through education, this memorial can live. Without these active remembrances, this memorial could become one more old statue.

I’m betting this won’t happen. Snowden’s words about teaching non-violent conflict resolution are encouraging. King believed that non-violent confrontation was the way to change the world. These are words and a philosophy not often heard. Even as the civil rights movement succeeded, King was mocked for his faith in non-violence, but succeed he did.

The changes King wrought and the ideas he expressed so eloquently will last — if we continue the struggle — and not by monuments alone.

Next Week: Thurgood Marshall, Alex Haley, Wiley Bates and Aris Allen Live Among Us as the Statues We Meet Each Day.

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