Statue commemorates King's dream

Memorial unveiled in Anne Arundel

August 28, 2006|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,sun reporter

One day shy of 43 years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered some of his most famous words before a sprawling crowd at Washington's Lincoln Memorial, his 9-foot-6-inch bronze likeness looked out above a granite pedestal yesterday over a reverent crowd of nearly 1,000 at Anne Arundel Community College.

Before a black velvet cloth was pulled away from Maryland's first memorial to King, community leaders and politicians talked about the ways the sculpture will speak to future generations.

"We built a statue of Dr. King that would be a memorial," said Barbara Ann Dorsey, a member of the dedication committee. "It would remind us to keep the dream alive in our hearts."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Maryland section yesterday about the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Arnold incorrectly identified the first African-American lieutenant governor of Colorado. He was George Leslie Brown, who served from 1974 to 1979.

The project was started by Carl O. Snowden, an aide to Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens and local civil rights activist, who pointed out the lack of a permanent King memorial in Maryland. Within a year, a committee raised $250,000 in private donations and, amid continued fundraising, secured a loan for $150,000 with backing from 15 people.

The committee hired Colorado sculptor Ed Dwight, whose works include the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley memorial in Annapolis and a Malcolm X statue in San Diego.

Dwight crafted the statue showing King with a book under his right arm and extending his left hand. A curved wall behind the figure has eight plaques with quotes from King's speeches.

Dwight, who is African-American, told the crowd at the unveiling that he was once badly in need of an education in black history.

A former engineer, astronaut trainee and real estate entrepreneur, Dwight described how he lived his first 40 years "in a white world," with many advantages and little understanding of the struggle many blacks faced.

He was a wealthy businessman and amateur artist when the first black lieutenant governor of Colorado, Joe Rogers, commissioned a sculpture and encouraged Dwight to take on projects illuminating the role of African-Americans in U.S. history.

Dwight said he told his benefactor, "It's going to be a real short series," and elicited ohs from yesterday's audience when he said he didn't know anything at the time about Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass or Sojourner Truth.

But, the 73-year-old artist told the audience, "There are a lot of Ed Dwights out there. They need this message."

Guy Djoken, president of the Frederick County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he plans to bring his organization's youth council to see the memorial and hopes that it will be "a catalyst" for young people to want to learn more.

"Knowledge is key, and [King] having the book in his hand ... the symbolism is there," he said.

Betty Johnson of Elkton agreed that the memorial could be an important teaching tool.

The youth groups she works with in Cecil and Harford counties "go miles and miles and days and days from our area to look at pieces of art," she said. "Now we have it right here."

Brenda Whitehurst of Potomac is a fan of Dwight's art, having worked with him on plans for a national memorial to black Revolutionary War soldiers. "It is fabulous," she said of the King sculpture. "I love the pose, the expression."

U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes told the crowd that a memorial to King is planned for the Mall in Washington. But, he said, "Carl Snowden and his committee got there first with this memorial, and I commend them."

Sarbanes recalled attending the March on Washington and hearing King's "I Have a Dream" speech as a young man working in the Kennedy administration. "Dr. King transformed our society," he said, noting that the children and grandchildren of those gathered "inherit a nation that is better and truer to its highest ideals."

Sarbanes, who is retiring, was followed at the microphone by one of the leading candidates for his Senate seat, Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin - but not before master of ceremonies Snowden recognized Cardin's opponent in the race, Kweisi Mfume, who was applauded for his role as the former president and CEO of the NAACP.

The college in Arnold also received credit for providing the space for the statue - a location Dwight deemed appropriate.

King "was all about education," Dwight said. "He was about raising all the boats."

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