by Maniza Naqvi
The 50th anniversary of Dr. King's civil rights march on Washington is to be celebrated this week. The bullet points in the news are that Bradley Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking military documents and the White House hasn't stopped its military aid of US$1.3 billion to Egypt despite the military take over there and the killing of over one thousand citizens. Trouble is the poor White House is in a bind. Egypt doesn't need the weapons—it seems, it's the American contractors who do. US weapons contractors need the contracts for those weapons. If this aid is stopped, then the poor Pentagon Procurement office will be stuck in litigations for reneging on contracts and US weapons firms will suffer—Who knows which firms are involved and which senator in which State will be held accountable come election time. Fixing elections by changing voting rights might not be insurance enough. Civil liberties must take a back seat to commerce. You can't eat civil liberties. And elections aren't about civil liberties!
As I walk towards the statue of Lafayette on the Southwest corner of the park, I pass by the brick building which is on the blocked off street adjacent to the park on its eastern side and called Madison Place. I can see through to the courtyard, the wrought iron gates are open—a fountain gurgles in the courtyard—it is the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (here). This court, set up in 1982 during Reagan's reign, deals with litigation and appeals on money matters related to veterans claims, patents, intellectual property, tax, and international contracts. Interesting, that this should be the appeals court in such a prime location nestled so near the White House. I hesitate at the sight of the K-9 unit and Security but then I cross the street, go up the stairs and into the courtyard. There are windows of offices on three floors, which look down onto the courtyard, what a lovely setting this is, idyllic almost, with a shaded walk way to the side with tables and chairs: a quiet serene nook where perhaps anyone could come and sit and write, or have lunch.There's a certain whiff of southern sensibility here, a nod to Charleston, perhaps? This garden, the sound of the water gurgling–this discovery, the lack of time that I have to stay—make it familiar and even more special. How peaceful it is here.
Outside the courtyard I am back amongst the trees and sculptures. Clark Mills , an American created the Andrew Jackson sculpture. Alexandre Falguiere a French man made the Lafayette sculpture. Here Lafayette looks towards the White House. Reaching upto him with a sword, as if to give it to him, from the base of the monument is a half-naked woman. Looking up at Lafayette, it seems that the the artist felt the need to have emphasized Lafayette's private parts and draw attention to this point with the crease and pull of the breeches at the General's thigh made more prominent from this vantage point of having to look up at the statue. Got to love the French. Two cherubs adorn the other side of the monument mooning passersby. Fernand Hamar another French man made the Rochambeau sculpture. Antoni Popiel a Polish artist rendered the Thaddeus Kosciuszko sculpture and a German-American Albert Jaegers fashioned the one of von Steuben. His sculptures of German heroes, and probably because of his own German origin, were targeted during the World Wars. In any case, all of these sculptures in Lafayette Park, dedicated to liberty, shrieking and screaming, are of Generals and war heroes, and were rendered by artists who were of the nationality of origin of the personalities depicted in these monuments.
But the monument dedicated to civil liberties, to the warrior with words, for civil liberties who was felled by a bullet, the one of Dr. Martin Luther King, was made in China by a Chinese artist. The white granite stone was quarried in China. The civil rights tribute to the great American hero, is made in China. This monument, is the latest addition to the monuments in Washington DC after years of fund raising, and back and forth on contracts, payments and disputes. The disputes included, the ones about the design: the original design seemed to show Dr. King in an aggressive posture, another seemed to make him look like Mao. Then there were other issues and delays. The monument is now finally open for business. Created by Lei Yexin, there he is in white granite, a Baptist minister, in a pose of supplication of Muslim prayer and resembling the statues depicting the warriors of the first emperor of China. The monument when seen in its entirety resembles the monuments of the Sphinx in Egypt whose faces were defaced, rumor has it, by Napoleon's armies because the monuments had African features and such great works could not possibly have been left as they were because they would undermine the absolute power, right, might and authority of the occupiers.
On the banks of the tidal basin, near Jefferson's memorial which was designed by the American John Russell Pope and the FDR's memorial by the American Lawrence Halprin, and a mile from the White House, sits the memorial to Dr. King. The figure of Martin Luther King resembling a Chinese, terracotta warrior, rises, as though placed as the face of a Sphinx. The inscription at the monument had caused a furor and is in the process of being removed because it quotes Dr. King out of context. And as a label on the monument, it is in fact an insult to the great man. This blasting away of the inscription has been delayed because the contractor does not have insurance for sandblasting using steel pellets. The Government must, therefore, resort to its own devices for blasting, to fix it.
Walking Past the White House: