The family of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has charged the foundation building a monument to the civil rights leader on the National Mall about $800,000 for the use of his words and image.
The “Stone of Hope” statue of Dr. King was sculpted in China by a Chinese sculptor out of Chinese granite and shipped to the United States where it was assembled by unpaid Chinese workers.
In September 2010, the MLK Memorial foundation promised, in writing, to use local stonemasons from a Washington D.C. union to put the pieces of granite together. According to The Washington Post, their wages would have been $32 an hour plus $12 an hour in benefits. Months later, when the construction began with Chinese workers brought over to America, that’s how the union learned the foundation had broken its’ promise.
Union investigators would soon find out their Chinese counterparts were being given room and board while in the U.S., but no wages.
The memorial is a result of an early effort of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated to erect a monument to King. King was a member of the fraternity, initiated into the organization via Sigma Chapter on June 22, 1952, while he was attending Boston University. King remained involved with the fraternity after the completion of his studies, including delivering the keynote speech at the fraternity’s 50th anniversary banquet in 1956. In 1968, after King’s assassination, Alpha Phi Alpha proposed erecting a permanent memorial to King in Washington, D.C. The fraternity’s efforts gained momentum in 1986, after King’s birthday was designated a national holiday.
In 1996, the United States Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior to permit Alpha Phi Alpha to establish a memorial on Department of Interior lands in the District of Columbia, giving the fraternity until November 2003 to raise $100 million and break ground. In 1998, Congress authorized the fraternity to establish a foundation—the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation—to manage the memorial’s fundraising and design, and approved the building of the memorial on the National Mall. In 1999, the United States Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) and the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) approved the site location for the memorial.
While often overshadowed by his civil rights legacy, King was an outspoken defender of labor rights and was supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee when he was assassinated. But his memorial was built, in part, using free labor imported from China.
“I don’t think the Jefferson family, the Lincoln family … I don’t think any other group of family ancestors has been paid a licensing fee for a memorial in Washington,” said Cambridge University historian David Garrow, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of King. “One would think any family would be so thrilled to have their forefather celebrated and memorialized in D.C. that it would never dawn on them to ask for a penny.”
King would have been “absolutely scandalized by the profiteering behavior of his children,” Garrow said.
Poet Maya Angelou says the inscription on the newly unveiled Martin Luther King , Jr. Memorial makes the civil rights leader look like an “arrogant twit.”
Angelou took aim at the inscription which reads “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.”
“The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit,” . “He was anything but that. He was far too profound a man for that four-letter word to apply.”
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