Martin Luther King Day: A Preview in Rocky Mount N.C.
In Rocky Mount, North Carolina, the
locals are already celebrating by a racial power
struggle between whites and blacks. What the New York
Times reported about the conflict last month tells
us something about race relations today. [King
Statue, a Unity Symbol, Severely Tests the Dream,
By Jeffrey Gettleman, NYT, December 13, 2003]
Rocky Mount is a
small city that is 55 percent white and 45 percent
black, and for years the whites who have historically
run the place have tried to show the blacks how
progressive they are on racial issues. In 1997 the
white-run city decided to build a
public park that honored King, who actually invited
himself to Rocky Mount back in 1962 and delivered his
usual oration about having a dream, etc. To honor
King even more, the city fathers commissioned a statue
of him to adorn the park and inspire everybody.
They gave the contract to a
sculptor in Chicago, and he built a model that was put
on display in the City Hall and arts center and stood
there for more than a year. A black-majority commission
approved the design, and the statue was built and
installed last summer.
The blacks didn`t like it.
A local black church leader, the
Rev. Elbert Lee, announced "That ain`t Dr. King. The
lips, the eyes, the mustache, the cheeks. It don`t look
The sculptor turned out to be
white. You perhaps begin to see the problem.
"White people don`t look at us
as we look at ourselves," a local black artist named
Ed Dwight intoned to the Times. "I compete
with many white artists all over the country, and they
bring their maquettes in and they don`t look anything
like the subject."
It`s a black thing, I guess. Mr.
Dwight himself says, "It`s a cultural thing, a very,
very spiritual thing."
Whatever it is, it`s a problem for
the local installment of racial harmony the city`s white
bigwigs imagined they were boosting. As the Times
moment the statue went up, people started grumbling,
especially residents in the
mostly black neighborhood where it was placed. For
some, the statue`s pose seemed `arrogant` and the face
did not look like Dr. King`s. And worse, some said the
sculptor who made it is white."
The sculptor is Eric Blome, who has
made sculptures of such black icons as
Thurgood Marshall and King himself for various
public memorials. There`s a big trade in
black statues these days, you see, what with all
these white bigwigs promoting racial harmony all the
But the problem is you can`t have
harmony when the sculptor`s a white guy.
"We need an artist who can
relate," says a local black resident, who with
others is demanding the city junk the statue and spring
for a new one.
What Rocky Mount really needs is
probably to forget the whole thing and name the park
Andy Griffith or
Jesse Helms or somebody who actually had something
to do with the state. What the white guys who run the
accomplished with their phony little adventure in
racial harmony was to plow the
divisions deeper than ever.
As the Times also notes:
Mount is now polarized as ever, over a symbol of racial
unity, which has sparked protests and fiery night
meetings in old churches, untapping an energy rarely
seen since the
civil rights days when people were marching in the
streets with the living, breathing Dr. King."
And what is behind the division is
not "culture" or "spirit" or some other
opacity but race. What the experiment with the King
statue shows is that race remains real, at least for the
black side of the conflict.
For the whites, maybe it is and
maybe it isn`t, but they tried to
pretend at least that race didn`t matter. What they
found is that it does.
Last month, blacks took over a
majority on the city council for the first time in the
city`s history, "marking," as the Times
shift of power that has worked its way through many
Southern cities as white residents flock to the
Now we`ll see whose statue the city
puts up and who it looks like.
As for the sculptor, he has his own
thoughts about the episode: "That`s what`s so
frustrating about this whole thing. This is a statue of
Martin Luther King. Wasn`t King about transcending
Well, not really.
What King was about was the same
thing the statue episode is about—the awakening of one
race and its gradual displacement of another.
It just took a few years for that
to become clear.
For the sculptor and the white guys
who hired him and a lot of other people, it still isn`t.
CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
[Sam Francis [email
him] is a nationally syndicated columnist. A selection
of his columns,
America Extinguished: Mass Immigration And The
Disintegration Of American Culture, is now available
Americans For Immigration Control.
for Sam Francis` website.
here to order his monograph,
Ethnopolitics: Immigration, Race, and the American
Political Future and
Glynn Custred`s review.]