King’s image evolving

Quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr., are inscribed in the wall at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial as it is seen at dusk in Washington.

Quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr., are inscribed in the wall at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial as it is seen at dusk in Washington.

WASHINGTON — On the National Mall in Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. is a towering, heroic figure carved in stone. On the Broadway stage, he’s a living, breathing man who chain smokes, sips liquor and occasionally curses.

As Americans honor King’s memory 44 years after he was assassinated, the image of the slain civil rights leader is evolving.


The new King memorial, which opened in August in the nation’s capital, celebrates the ideals King espoused. Quotations from his speeches and writings conjure memories of his message, and a 30-foot-tall sculpture depicts King emerging as a “stone of hope” from a “mountain of despair,” a design inspired by a line of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Some gaze upon this figure in silence. Some smile and pull out cell phone cameras. Others chat about how closely the statue resembles King. And some are moved to tears.

“Just all that this man did so that we could do anything and be anything,” said Brandolyn Brown, 26, of Cheraw, S.C., who visited the memorial Saturday with her aunt and cousin.

“I know it took a lot more than him to get to where we are, but he was a big part of the movement.”

Brown’s aunt, Gloria Drake, 60, of Cheraw, S.C., said she remembers King almost as though he was Moses leading his people to the promised land, even when there were so many reasons to doubt things would get better in an era of segregated buses, schools and lunch counters.

“It was really just hostile,” she said. “... And then we had a man that comes to tell us things are going to be better.”

“Don’t be mad, don’t be angry,” she recalled King’s message. “Just come together in peace.”

They said King’s lasting legacy is the reality of equality and now having a black president. Drake said President Barack Obama reminds her of King with his “calmness” even in the face of anger.

Christine Redman, 37, visited the memorial with her husband, James Redman, 40, and their young son and daughter. She said they also feel a personal connection to King.

“We’re a mixed family, and we know that without a lot of the trials that he went through to help end segregation and help the races to become one, we would not be able to have the freedoms to love who we want to love and be accepted in the world,” she said.

Her son, 8-year-old Tyler, echoed his mom: “And be who we want to be.”

The family tries to celebrate King’s birthday by finding a way to serve others, they said. They were thinking about volunteering at a food pantry or donating toys for needy kids.

When he thinks of King, James Redman said he thinks of hope. Still, he said, King’s legacy is lost on many.

“Dr. King was about love and about cooperation and compromise and working together,” he said. “We don’t see a whole lot of that in our leaders. We don’t see a whole lot of it in our citizenry.”


On Broadway, theatergoers are seeing a different version of King — one that is more man than legend.

The realism was refreshing for Donya Fairfax, who marveled after leaving a matinee of “The Mountaintop” that she had never really thought of King cursing, as actor Samuel L. Jackson does while portraying King in the play.

“He was human and not someone who was above fault,” said the 48-year-old, visiting from Los Angeles. “He cursed. He did things that people do behind closed doors. He was regular.”

For some, such a portrayal would seem to chip away at King’s memory. But for Natalie Pertz, who at 20 has come to know King only through the gauzy view of history, it seemed a precious reminder that it is not beyond the reach of the ordinary and the flawed to effect change.

“It’s important for people our age to see that he wasn’t this saint-like figure,” she said. “It’s making you see that just because you’re not perfect, it doesn’t mean you can’t do good.”

For M.E. Ward, seeing an in-the-flesh incarnation of King brought her back more than 40 years, to when she watched his soaring speeches on the television. No matter how human he seemed on stage, she said, he still carried a godly gift.

“Still charismatic, still an orator, and an individual who was able to move people through his speech,” she said, adding that King enlightened the world with a message “to be peaceful, to be patient, to be non-violent.”

No matter how distant his presence is now, that legacy is still very relevant, she said, in what she called “a world of turmoil and violence, constant violence.”

Do people idealize him too much?

“They don’t do it enough!” said 64-year-old Elisabeth Carr, who cried through most of the play, feeling some of the pain she felt when the civil rights leader died. “The younger generation, they don’t know anymore. ... They don’t understand what they went through.”

After traveling more than five hours with three friends — all of them African-American — to see Saturday’s matinee, Mariko Tapper Taylor said seeing King in all his flaws did nothing to diminish his legacy.

“It’s better to remember him as human,” she said. “Who’s flawless? It just shows that there’s another side of him.”

For her, the holiday remains very personal, Taylor said.

One of her friends, Dr. Donnita Scott, chimed in:

“If it wasn’t for him we probably wouldn’t be doctors,” she said, nodding at the group, which includes two ER physicians and a psychiatrist.

Dr. Jan Thomas agreed:

“We’re standing on that mountaintop.”


reb_arty1863 2 years, 11 months ago

Tell us why Michael Kings F.B.I. records are sealed until 2032. Michael was his name before he changed it to Martin Luther. Will ya hunh???

The real Martin Luther late 1400-1500's,, although a leader in protestant reformation, preached anti jewish policies. He preached that jews property should be confiscated, their synagogues burned, their money taken and their freedoms removed. A great person to rename yourself after.


VSU 2 years, 11 months ago

I don't know why people comtinue to celebrate Martin Luther King Day. After all, most people don't follow his dream anyway. I am pretty sure his dream wasn't to join gangs and become thugs and killing people, nor was it his dream to hold his hand out to get everything free, nor was it his dream to be on welfare, food stamps and to live in poverty, or his dream to get young teenage girls pregnant etc..........Just saying!


Deltawoman 2 years, 11 months ago

To VSU: What you were "just saying"? Does not represent all people. There will always be good people in this world and bad people in this world. Users and abusers of all races, politicial affiliation, religion, sex and class status. The reason Dr. King is celebrated is to remind EVERYONE that if it had not been for him and lots of dedicated people(some of my family members) I would not have the right to vote, I would not be treated equally, I would not have right to go to any college I choose and I have a Master's Degree. I have a great paying job because I believed that I could be better than what statistics inaccurately says I should be, since I was raised by a single mother with only a high school eduation. And yes, I had a father and knew him very well. Dr. King made it possible for President Obama to be where he is today, because he has civil rights to run as a presidential candidate and HE WON!!! That is why Dr. King is still celebrated!!!


VSU 2 years, 11 months ago

Yeah, but unfortunately there are millions of others that doesn't do like you do.


Deltawoman 2 years, 11 months ago

To Reb-arty1863, your name does not define you. Character defines a person. If you do not know what "character" means then use the dictionary. I can be named Atilla The Hun but my character proves who I am not a name that can be changed to what ever I want it to be.


Abytaxpayer 2 years, 11 months ago

Delta congratulations on your achievements. You are right the reason Dr. King should be celebrated is to remind everyone they have the ability to make their own status today because of his and other’s selfless work. But today Apathy has overwhelmed so many of the very people he worked so hard to help. Far too many have a sense of entitlement and are not willing to work as you have to make something for yourself. Apathy has lead to lazy, indifferent, uninformed blind followers who can not nor will not think for themselves. MLK worked for a BETTER Tomorrow for everyone. If more people would honor the memoir and hard work of Dr. King and just say to themselves “What would MLK do or say about what I am doing?” and live accordingly what a horor to MLK that would be, instead too many have allowed Apathy to be their way of life…. DCSS is a prime example, Dr. King would have never stood by and allowed a few misguided people on the board to steal the futures of the children, he knew education was the way out for the children . He would most likely be calling for action and saying, We have got to do something about the education of our children. But Apathy has become the norm in Albany.


VSU 2 years, 11 months ago

Right on Abytaxpayer, well said. That is pretty much the reason I said what I said. Not enough people trying to follow his dream.


rorschach 2 years, 11 months ago

His real name was Martin Luther King Jr. He was named after his father, Martin Luther King Sr. Also, we should be more concerned with what Jesus WILL say about us than what Martin Luther King Jr. would say. And Jesus even knows what you're thinking even when you don't say it.


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