Dark Matter

a mixture of the unknown and the tangible - by Jennifer Newsom

The Mountaintop

Regarding the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (dedication to occur on Aug 28, 2011):

I am happy that this memorial is built. It is a long time coming, and it honors one of America's truly great citizens. But I agree with many points of David Sokol's article that this memorial is not all we dreamed it could be.

I suppose the design is meant to evoke Kings famous phrase of delayed arrival to the Promised Land, but I feel that the heroism and scale of the memorial is not in keeping with King's teachings or mission. I am not so sure that someone who preached equality and justice for everyman would want his likeness to tower at over four times the height of an average person. I see his struggle as a multi-layered and philosophically complex one - the one liner of the stone emerging from the Mountain of Despair (HATE that name) is a simplistic rehash of ol' memorial tropes - and subliminally reinforces the debilitating notion that Black folk are such a downtrodden and thus depressed people. We went (hmm, are going) through some tough times y'all(!), but that resilience of spirit, the keepin' on through adversity, the sheer DOGGEDNESS of our race makes me cringe at any notion of despair (even if it IS a King quotation). True, King was an incredible intellectual, social, and and civic force - but his actions are all the more memorable for the many brave actions he inspired in others. I think this is truly King's legacy - he inspired regular Joes to greatness; he helped the everyman become the champion of all mankind.  With that booming baritone he beckoned his brothers and sisters to heed the call to personal responsibility, action, and duty to something larger than themselves.

This conceptualization of humanity makes me think of the beautiful La Mezquita mosque in Cordoba, Spain. My visit there in 2005 (thanks, Mom, for the fabulous graduation present!) was truly mind-blowing. Here I was, a fresh architecture school graduate versed in the architectural (read: Greco-Roman) cannon, and NO ONE at school had talked about the great leveling feel of that horizontal space. As a lover of Mies van der Rohe and his slipping and sliding lines, this space was so potent for me. The far-reaching tide of those columns formed a place that was holy in the lateral sense - reiterating that each of us carry a spiritual life-force within us that it is important to revere, respect, and give thanks for. Despite the troubled history of the place (and recent clashes between Muslims and Christians there), the architectural model is one that would have resonated at the King site. I don't know exactly how it would play out, but I think it demands a more humanistic scale and an emphasis on the horizontal expansion (reiterating the spread of King's word) to hint at the connectedness of us all.


Side Note: My family is from Montgomery, Alabama. Rosa Parks lived down the street from my grandparents. Dr. King would play pool in their basement. My mother babysat his children and received a book signed by King as a wedding present. My grandfather drove people to work during the bus boycott. So this memorial is very intricately bound up in my life, as it is for so many other Black Americans. It is so so so important that this tribute happened - as an honor to the man who changed millions of people's lives in our very recent history (only 50 years ago, people!) I need to ask my mom what she thinks about the memorial.