Front view of the MLK Memorial statue.
Preview of the MLK Memorial statue. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Knight Foundation/Flickr)

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was unveiled Monday on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and people aren’t happy with Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin’s interpretation of the slain African-American civil rights leader. “Weak” is one adjective The Daily Beast uses to describe the MLK Memorial statue, but the most common points of contention among critics are that it reflects “communist roots” and that it is white.

MLK, the pale, freckle-skinned activist

Critics of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial like Blake Gopnik of The Daily Beast note that while the builders of the monument sought a stone with “the right Washington vibe,” the granite chosen appears pale and weak. The blush-colored MLK does not appear to be black or to possess the inner fire that guided the real Martin Luther King Jr. in his non-violent forms of resistance to institutionalized racism and inequality. Even at 29 feet tall, the MLK statue is significantly smaller than surrounding trees and the nearby Washington Monument in particular, which numerous critics suggest marginalizes the impact of the memorial.

It matters if you’re black, whitewashed or communist

On the MLK Memorial statue’s communist leanings, Gopnik points to its soapbox posture:

“The King sculpture isn’t so much monumental as overbearing and ponderous. Its Communist roots show clearly; it shouts its importance at you, like a party leader with a bullhorn,” he writes.

Yet the screams from the party mountaintop amount to little more than a postage-stamp stylization, the author notes. And a very Chinese postage stamp at that, as the cliffs behind the figure of Dr. King apparently resemble those in many classic Chinese paintings. Ultimately, the MLK statue fails to personify one of the greatest figures in U.S. history, at least in Gopnik’s estimation. That it took $120 million in mostly private funds to erect something less than appealing to some of Dr. King’s staunchest living supporters, such as the KingME movement, suggests that monuments simply aren’t as monumental as we think.

CBS Sunday Morning on the MLK Memorial


The Daily Beast:

KingME Documentary:

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Virtual Tour:

MLK Wiki:,_Jr.

Washington Post:

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