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. chrissy

    no take my picture first!

    October 16, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  2. karla katz

    Again! Another article about the monument, and no mention of the fact it was designed, quarried, and sculpted in CHINA!

    October 16, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      MLK's teachings is not to judge based on skin color or race but by the quality of a persons character. Most chinese are very moral maybe much more moral than americans

      October 16, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland Tony

      I don't get the China connection in your comment. Are you saying the memorial is somehow tainted. Would it have been more to your liking if it was done in Africa? Holy crap! Art is Art. By the way, the statue of liberty was uh...designed and manufactured in France!

      October 16, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • ConTroll

      OMG! CHINA? GASP! Don't get your connection either.

      October 16, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • AMDFreak

      so? We got the statue of Liberty from France. America has always been about freedom and equality everyone in the world is inherently equal. Some more radical Conservatives forget that.

      October 16, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. RUFFNUTT ( ELF & BUGBEAR KILLER )

    I REMEMBER WHEN I WAS A KID AND MET MR.KING. we went to kfc, and he bought me a strawberry soda and some chicken... it was awesome...

    October 16, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mmmmm

    Man it just dawn on me this will be next great sculpture since Abe Lincoln, of an american hero, baaaaaasbey!

    October 16, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. RUFFNUTT ( ELF SLAYER & BUGBEAR KILLER )

    I HAD A DREAM.. that one day americans will have a job.. and be able to afford to send there kids to college

    October 16, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Portrait Painter

    The head should be more forward. The shoulders should start farther back. There is a problem with the way the head connects to the body. The lips are beautifully done. It feels like there should be more mass to the head. It's a skinny Asian version of MLK. I don't feel as much care was given to the character of the body as was to the head.

    October 16, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      Notta clone justa statue...

      October 16, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland Tony

      It's a memorial to a man. It could have been designed a thousand different ways. It's symbolic. Take a look at a photo of Lincoln. Then compare it to the memorial. You see the likeness but not the stress lines and warts etc...

      October 16, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hello

      Made in China... It will probably dissolve in a few years.

      October 16, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Curious

    In the photo he looks as if he's listening to someone or perhaps watching something on TV. But the statue has a look of utter contempt in his face – it's hard to believe his family approved of this portrayal.

    October 16, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. RUFFNUTT ( ELF SLAYER & BUGBEAR KILLER )

    looks like he's thinking " man i'd like to kick some cr-ack-er a$$es , or what you talking about willis? "

    October 16, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kenny

    You all are starting in on Rev. King just like man has done for centuries about Christ. People are always talking about how HE looked and there are differing viewss of HIS sature. Well none of you is seeing the real picture. The real picture is what these people represent in our lives. It's not about the scroll one holds or the look on his face. It all about the person and what he and his life stood for. Maybe one day many years from now someone will understand what Dr. King is to people.

    October 16, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. RUFFNUTT ( ELF SLAYER & BUGBEAR KILLER )

    they sould make a statue outta chocolate for easter..

    October 16, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  11. bobcat2u.

    It's Obamas fault.

    October 16, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. nguoinhaque

    the statue looks like he is peeing

    October 16, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • RUFFNUTT ( ELF SLAYER & BUGBEAR KILLER )

      more like he has to fart but doesnt wanna shart...

      October 16, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Weatherbrain

    doesn't look anything like the photo – his face is too fat and too broad – even for MLK. The face of the statue is stern, more menacing than the photo which has MLK as softer, kinder. I can't believe this was ever approved and the cost of it is an outrage and a rip off to his memory and all the people that expected a subtle grandeur that is missing here. Completely missing. It looks like something i'd expect to see in North Korea or under Stalin in the 1930's. Horrid.

    October 16, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Clark Nova

    Great photo. Great man. Awful monument.

    October 16, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. RUFFNUTT ( ELF SLAYER & BUGBEAR KILLER )

    maybe he's like "do i want regular or extra crispy?"

    October 16, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
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