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Equal Justice Initiative Reveals MLK Statue at Legacy Museum in Alabama

By Ralph Chapoco, Nebraska Examiner, June 19, 2024

The Equal Justice Initiative has unveiled a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. in Montgomery, Alabama, in honor of his legacy and work for civil rights.

The statue is the second of three that are planned at EJI’s Legacy Museum meant to offer people insights into racism, racial oppression and the violence that went along with it. The nonprofit unveiled a statue of civil rights activist Rosa Parks in February. Another planned monument will honor John Lewis, a civil rights activist who later became a congressman.

“There is no American that is greater that this country has produced than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” said EJI Executive Director Bryan Stevenson at Friday’s unveiling. “He changed America in profound and lasting ways. He reshaped the American South. We could not sit here, in this collective body, with this diverse group of people, but for the legacy and the leadership that he, and the extraordinary people who joined him, created.”

Bernice King, Martin Luther King’s daughter, attended the event along with Basil Watson, the artist who created the sculpture.

‘Prayer in the Wind’

The statue of King, about eight feet tall, depicts King in prayer at a moment of reflection. His hands are nearly clasped together, his head slightly facing down with his back turned away from the action and chaos in the time he is immersed.

“I call it ‘Prayer in the Wind’ because he is twisting, turning, facing and enduring the wind of change, the wind of the history we have faced,” said Watson. “In the face of that, he prays for progress. I think one step forward is a big step.”

King was pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (now Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church) from 1954 to 1960 and helped lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott, sparked by Parks’ refusal to give up a seat on a segregated bus to a white man. The statue is the first of King in Montgomery.

In developing the design for the monument, Watson said he studied King’s speeches and his different works, and a theme began to develop.

“The recurring theme for me has always been hope and love, that we can’t build by destroying,” Watson said. “We have to build by building. We have to look at the positives, and we have to have a positive outlook for where we are going and where we are coming from. I have always tried to project that message of hope.”

Lewis statue next

Both the state and the city of Montgomery have taken several steps in recent years to honor the memory of the civil rights battles fought in the city. The city in 2019 dedicated a statue of Parks near the spot in Court Square in 1955 where she boarded the segregated bus. Alabama is preparing to dedicate another monument to Parks at the Alabama State Capitol.

“This marks a new era in this community, and I don’t think we should underestimate that,” Stevenson said. “When I moved to Montgomery in the 1980s, you could not find the word ‘slave,’ ‘slavery,’ or ‘enslavement’ anywhere in a public space in this city. We have done so much to maintain racial hierarchy and white supremacy, schools named after the perpetrators of that violence, streets named after the people who believed that Black people were not equal to white People — and that was everywhere.”

EJI next plans to dedicate a statue to Lewis, who helped lead the Freedom Rides and the Selma-to-Montgomery march and was physically attacked at both events. Lewis was later elected to Congress, and represented an Atlanta-area U.S. House district until his death in 2020. The organization has not set a date for its unveiling.

The organization hopes the statutes will serve as a place for people to reflect on the struggle to expand civil rights and the steps needed to do so.

“We, holistically, in every generation, have a call to the freedom struggle,” Bernice King said. “Not coming here just to experience a museum, to learn, but how can I begin to incorporate what I learned into my life as I become a part of this freedom struggle.”

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Alabama Reflector under a Creative Commons license.

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