Flickr/michaelhyman300

Say what you will about the new MLK memorial in Washington. At least it doesn't look like some random guy named Hazel.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man. But he certainly hasn't inspired great public art.

That dismal fact was driven home last week when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar ordered the National Park Service to redo part of its new MLK memorial in Washington, D.C. The problem: The words on the statue, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness," never actually came out of the civil-rights leader's mouth; they were a lame paraphrase of a more complex statement. The fixing of King's quote will pacify one faction in the memorial's screaming horde of critics. Still awaiting adjustment, presumably, are the stone man's stern, almost constipated facial expression and the unpaid wages of the Chinese workers who helped sculptor Lei Yixin build the thing.

A glance around the nation's parks and plazas, however, reveals that Washington cannot claim a monopoly on the Awkward MLK Statue phenom. Check out this visage of the good doctor in Omaha, Neb.: You could hide a golf ball in the yawning cleft on that chin. (The actual crease on King's jaw was more subtle.) And whoever fabricated the MLK statue in Albany, N.Y., must have forged the limbs separately and then attempted to fuse them together, because the Nobel-Prize-winning pastor is stuck with an oversized, neckless head that could've fallen off of a Pep Boys sculpture. The viewer is left wondering: Does it bobble?

But in terms of sheer what-on-earth-ness, no King statue can hold a torch to the one drawing double takes in Marshall Park in Charlotte, N.C. It is officially the "World's Worst Martin Luther King Statue," according to journalist Jerry Bledsoe's 1984 book, North Carolina Curiosities.

Take a gander. Who is that fellow, and what is he doing? Although King actually did make an unconventional hand gesture during his "I Have a Dream" speech, here he looks like Darth Vader getting ready to force-choke a fool. With that tensed knee and up-stretched hand, King could also be one of the martial artists in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, seconds away from soaring into the air and executing a flurry of chops and kicks. For a celebrated pacifist, these thoughts are alarming.

For a less-violent but equally strange image, look at the stairway that King is ascending. It ends abruptly on the next step, which, given the way he is groping around with that hand like somebody in the dark seeking a light switch, suggests that this esteemed fighter for justice is about to walk into a culvert. Surely this is not the scenario envisioned by Harlem Renaissance artist Selma Burke (originator of the Franklin Roosevelt face on the U.S. dime) when she crafted the piece in 1980.

John Grooms has noted the peculiarities of the sculpture in a couple of posts over at Creative Loafing Charlotte's Clog Blog. To him, it looks as if King is "holding his hand out to check for rain." And as for the statue's face, it sure looks familiar, says Grooms, but not in the way it's supposed to:

The MLK statue, and I’m trying to be kind here, sort of looks like Martin Luther King, but not really. Strangely enough, the statue is a dead ringer for a guy I grew up with named Hazel Willis. Hazel was a smart guy, and an African American, but that’s about as far as the similarities with MLK Jr. go.

Photo by Flickr user michaelhyman300.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Perspective

    Why Car-Free Streets Will Soon Be the Norm

    In cities like New York, Paris, Rotterdam, and soon San Francisco, car-free streets are emerging amid a growing movement.

  2. photo: an Uber driver.
    Perspective

    Did Uber Just Enable Discrimination by Destination?

    In California, the ride-hailing company is changing a policy used as a safeguard against driver discrimination against low-income and minority riders.

  3. photo: Robert Marbut, the incoming director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness,
    Equity

    Here’s the Enforcer for Trump’s Punitive Agenda on Homelessness

    In Texas and Florida, Robert Marbut Jr. sold cities on a controversial model for providing homeless services. Now he’s bringing it to the White House.

  4. Transportation

    How Media Coverage of Car Crashes Downplays the Role of Drivers

    Safety advocates have long complained that media outlets tend to blame pedestrians and cyclists who are hit by cars. Research suggests they’re right.

  5. photo: a Tower Records Japan Inc. store in Tokyo, Japan.
    Life

    The Bankrupt American Brands Still Thriving in Japan

    Cultural cachet, licensing deals, and density explain why Toys ‘R’ Us, Tower Records, Barneys, and other faded U.S. retailers remain big across the Pacific.

×