On August 28, approximately 400,000 people are expected to attend the dedication of the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, twice the attendance of the March on Washington held 48 years ago to the day. The memorial has racked up other impressive numbers—27 years since Alpha Phi Alpha began campaigning for the memorial, 900 design competition submissions, $120 million raised mostly privately, 1,600 metric tons of granite—and not a little controversy.
The selection of Lei Yixin to create the figurative component of ROMA Design Group’s winning memorial scheme sparked comment that there must be an American whose abilities matched those of the famed Chinese sculptor. And some observed that Dr. King would not approve of China’s human rights record. Lei’s first efforts at recreating the namesake likeness attracted more attention: Preliminary models showed Dr. King emerging from a giant block of granite, in a style that the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) criticized for its similarity to Social Realism. Then there was disappointment over a failed promise of free shipping.