Photographer's image is basis for memorial
October 16th, 2011
02:04 PM ET

Photographer's image is basis for memorial

When Bob Fitch heard about plans for a Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, he thought he might get a call.

Fitch worked for several years with the civil rights movement as a photographer and captured many iconic images of King.

When the call came some ten years ago, Clay Carson was on the other end. The founding director of the MLK Research and Education Institute at Stanford University was part of a group working on a design submission for the monument. As the editor as King's papers, Carson knew the exact image he wanted for the monument.

The photograph, shot by Fitch in 1966, shows King standing in his office with a pen in his right hand, arms crossed. Carson felt the image shows a reflective man, striking the right tone for the monument his team conceived to encourage dialogue.

Carson's group eventually beat out 900 other submissions as the winning design.

But today both Carson and Fitch raise concerns about perceived differences between the initial vision and the finished monument. Some are superficial. In the photograph, King holds a pen in his right hand. In the statue, he holds no pen, but does hold a scroll in his left hand. On a more fundamental level, both Fitch and Carson question whether King would have wanted such a large monument and likeness.

Carson believes the issue of the pen came about due to a flipped negative that put the pen in King's left hand. The scroll replaced the pen so as not to be historically inaccurate. Several calls to the MLK National Memorial Project Foundation about the scroll went unanswered.

As to what King might have wanted to represent his legacy, Fitch says just the achievement of the monument is one to celebrate. Fitch says many people who worked in the movement, himself included, feel joyful that the "miracle of equity that he helped move forward for Afro-American people is honored in some way by the nation."

And for Carson the prominent placement of the monument, the first major monument on the National Mall honoring an African-American, fits with the grand vision of King.

For Carson, this moment brings back memories of another time on the mall, the famous March on Washington in 1963, where King laid out his grand vision. Said Carson: "Many of us who were there thought it was about getting civil rights legislation passed. But he was carrying on a dialogue with Jefferson about the meaning of the Declaration of Independence."

Now, standing in stone, the grand monument to the man and the movement seeks to continue this conversation. As Carson says, "Hopefully Americans black and white and many other races will be part of that discussion that is raised visually by the memorial: What do our nation's ideals really mean, how close are we to reaching those ideals and making them something other than words."

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soundoff (70 Responses)
  1. FauxNewz

    I spoke with the artist before the dedication and he said, "Sorry about the statue, but all Westerners look the same to me."

    October 16, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. guest

    My comment was for someone that has asked a very ignorant question. I see you finally deleted the comment but you left mine. Could please remove it, as it does not pertain to any other comment. Thank you.

    October 16, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. CSX

    A monument for when 250 US cities burned, a turning point in America's history. My great city was on its way to 1 million people, only to be scorched into a perpetual cesspool of debris.

    October 16, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Brian W.

    So why did they make a huge sculpture of George Jefferson in DC? ....Looks like him about to start telling Louise his "opinion".....it was a great show and all but a statue?.....oh wait its MLK......HAHAAHA right...looks nothing like him...George on the other hand...

    October 16, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Brian W.

    Am I the only one to think it looks like George Jefferson on the Jeffersons TV show?

    October 16, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hello

      I thought it was George Jefferson,... They put a statue of Sylvester Stallone in Philadelphia for his "Rocky" character. Archie Bunkers chair is in the Smithsonian.

      October 16, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • flyfishwiz

      When I first saw this statue I thought it looked like Han Solo when he was encased in carbonite.

      October 16, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Freedom From Insanity

    All the talk about the mounment is senseless...........Dr. King is a major part of history and the mountment will make sure people do not forget his accomplishments. Whether or not there is a pen in his hand or what the quote really means is not important. Dr. King was important and that is all that counts.

    October 16, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. DB

    So can we have a Malcom X statue now? His legacy deserves one just as much.

    October 16, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Hello

    Why wasn't the staute carved out of black marble or black granite? Nothing racisit here... the VietNam wall is black.

    October 16, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. MentalGiant

    Good for MLK. Can't say it really is merited as there are many other citizens that have done more for the US. Of course, this is important for our black fellows

    October 16, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hello

      Agreed. Heck, Glenn Beck led marches, wrote several books, had his own TV and Radio show for years. Where's his statue?

      October 16, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. s kel

    Becks stature is in hell right where you should be.

    October 16, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. s kel

    Is that ok Hello? If not f u.

    October 16, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
  12. banasy©

    Sure.
    Because Glenn Beck and MLK have sooooooo much in common.

    October 17, 2011 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
  13. Norfolk and Western

    @CSX: really? Considering that many of the cities were built on the backs of slaves, consider it divine justice. Now pipe down.

    October 17, 2011 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
  14. s kel

    Bansay how stupid are some people?? Lol

    October 17, 2011 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
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