“The Making of a Monument” Permanent Exhibit Launched. Plans for Continuing Use of MLK Park Outlined
Pictured left: (left to right) Brother Bell, James Pappas, Reverend Blue , Dr. Norman Lewin, Congressmen Higgins and Alfred Price. Brother . PHOTOS GREGORY D. BARBER
January 18 marked the rededication of the Dr. Martin Luther King monument was, in Clifford Bell’s own words “awesome.”
Indeed. It was a full court press by a committee led by the 90-year-old civic powerhouse to put an end, once and for all, to the controversy surrounding the monument in MLK Park and efforts to destroy the art and replace it with a more realistic likeness of Dr. King .
The truth, Bell and other supporters have said repeatedly, is that the 8 foot bust, created by the eminent Boston sculptor John Wilson, never intended to look exactly like the great civil rights leader; rather it is a symbolic work of art that would capture “the inner spirit and energy of the man.”
Wilson’s forceful presentation before the 9-member selection committee over three decades ago , Mr. Bell told the Challenger, “is what made it a go.”
The Buffalo African American Museum Committee, which Bell currently chairs, created the community coalition to re-dedicate the monument and promote the artistic value of the tribute to Dr. King.
The event, which took place inside Calvary Baptist Church on Genesee
Street, and then afterwards briefly at the monument site a short distance away in the park, was complete with historic video of the monument’s dedication in 1983 as well as interviews with original committee members and the artist himself.
“Everybody that had a direct involvement in it in 1983 including John Wilson was featured,” Bell told The Challenger.
In addition to the program at the church and the rededication of the monument, the grand opening of a permanent “Making of a Monument” exhibit inside the shelter house near the King memorial was also unveiled.
Bell said the goal of the event “is to bring people’s attention to the real meaning of this statue and make people feel a degree of comfort when they come into this atmosphere…this is a Frederick Law Olmstead park…all of his environmental things speak of peace and quiet and beauty…it fits right into this perfectly because its (the monument) enormously impressive.”
He continued: “This (the display) tells the story to the word, from the beginning.”
The rededication and launching of the exhibit he added, is significant.
“It’s important because I understand what it took to get here, and because Dr. King made the ultimate sacrifice.”
People can now come and see the tribute to Dr. King. Then they can come to the park shelter house located right behind it to see the complete history of the making of the monument and its significance.
In addition, a self-guided mobile audio tour makes it possible to simply use our phones to hear informational audio scripts narrated by Mr. Bell himself.
There is also a ‘Making of a Monument’ exhibit at the Merriweather Library which will be displayed the entire month of February, Black History Month. A portable exhibit is available to take to schools and other organizations year round.
“Plans are underway to have on-going use of the park for programming around Dr, King,,” noted Bell.
For example, he said a committee is being formed to schedule a celebration to take place in the park on the day of Dr. King’s assassination on April 4. Also, local festival organizers (i.e. Juneteenth, Pine Grill Jazz Reunion etc.) will be encouraged to include the monument and exhibit in their festivities. Efforts to become a part of the Michigan Street
African American Heritage Corridor tour will also be sought.
Meanwhile, the Buffalo Olmstead Parks Conservancy is planning improvements to the area surrounding the monument including new lighting and new landscape. Input from the community is welcome.
“We want this (monument and park) to be continually recognized for its value,” noted Bell. …
After 36 years of existence, he find sit hard to believe that anyone would want to destroy the memorial.
“What are we afraid of?” he said in reference to the colossal image. “King said it (in the video today), ‘Be Black. Be proud!’ “
“I was fortunate enough to be the chairman of the committee that started it,” concluded Brother Bell. “Now I’m chairman of the committee that did this(rededication)…to kind of finish it.”