I wish to provide some perspective on The Challenger News editorial, “Realism: vs symbolism: Petition to replace local Martin Luther King monument launched” (10 January 2018) and also to voice my disappointment at the Common Council’s decision to table Samuel A. Herbert’s petition to replace the “head” in Martin Luther King Park as reported in The Challenger News (17 October 2019).
Realism is the quality of representing a person, thing, or situation accurately or in a way that is true to life. Symbolism is the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities. In an artistic movement, a symbolic image is used to express ideas, emotions, and states of mind.
The Eastside Park located at 77 Best Street in Buffalo, was renamed in 1977 to pay homage to slain Black civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As a result of this, in 1983 the park was given a memorial sculpture to honor Dr. King’s legacy.
The monument in Martin Luther King Park, however, lacks both realism and symbolism. The monument is downright disgusting and a harsh reminder that nobody takes African Americans seriously. Dr. King should be celebrated. Black people in the community should see this monument and be proud; not disappointed and confused.
Although the symbolism may have been from the artist’s heart and conceived with good intentions, this is not good symbolic form to represent a man who was so influential. This monument is a joke and an embarrassment to the Black community. It should be recognizable. We should not have to second guess whether or not it is Dr. King! Why should we as a community, even have to go around collecting signatures to remove a Martin Luther King monument that is clearly not Martin Luther King? On those grounds alone the monument should be replaced with the “REAL” Dr. King Face! Honestly, this “big, black head” is a poor representation of Dr. King. I don’t believe funding is the issue. I believe location is the issue. Why would anyone want to fix up anything in the “hood’?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. should be represented accurately, in his own image, and especially not in the image of a “huge, black, head” that looks like Kunta Kinte! If this was any other monument—that is, any other monument erected in honor of a white person—I strongly feel that it would be beautiful and recognizable and that anyone, would be able to recognize the face.
Take for examples, the City Hall monuments of Presidents Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland, and any of the countless others throughout the city to include—but by no means limited to—Commander Oliver Perry, Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln, Tim Horton, Theodore Roosevelt, and General Daniel Bidwell. Even the (William) McKinley monument, though “symbolic,” is appropriately symbolic. Notice also that all these monuments are of white men
If Black people don’t start coming together and speaking out against this kind of disrespect and ignorance, the continued butchering of the legacies of our great, iconic, historic, leaders, as it has been historically, will be an ongoing problem for generations to come.