King and Country

When the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial was formally dedicated in Washington, D.C., critics began to grumble. Representatives of organized labor condemned the choice of white Chinese granite—and Chinese artisans. Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page complained that the memorial’s quotes from King “sidestep direct mention of race.” The Washington Post’s Courtland Milloy expressed his own disappointment that the memorial’s sculptor wasn’t black.

The chorus of complainers demanded forms of nativist or racialist symbolism that would directly contradict King’s admonition that we value personal merit rather than color. In the minds of too many Americans, King was primarily a black leader, and the civil rights movement he came to embody is principally the endowment of black Americans. But that view inappropriately qualifies the man and the movement. King wasn’t narrowly interested in race; he was broadly committed to justice. –Kmele Foster