The dedication of the new Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial has been postponed due to God’s impending wrath upon the East Coast, but hey, at least this gives us time to reflect upon the fancy new monument and all the crazy controversies surrounding it! Early on there was of course the obligatory “Shouldn’t they have hired a black person to sculpt this thing?” controversy, but that is boring. Thankfully, there is more to argue about, regarding this sculpture! In some sort of tragic/ironic twist, the “Stone of Hope” sculpture was built by unpaid Chinese workers, because nothing says “I have a dream!” like importing a bunch of slaves to build a statue of a famous civil rights leader.
What a proud moment for America, because we finally got around to building a statue for a person who is sort of extremely important to our national history, civil rights, etc. etc. And the best part is that we got a bunch of free labor! People were just so excited about this monument, everyone said, “Who needs money for rent when you can have national pride and a good feeling in your heart?” What a great planet we share!
While often overshadowed by his civil rights legacy, King was an outspoken defender of labor rights and was supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee when he was assassinated. But his memorial was built, in part, using free labor imported from China.
The foundation behind the memorial, which deserves tremendous praise for successfully pulling off the monumental project, controversially selected Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin — known for his bust of Mao Zedong — to be the lead sculptor on the project. Couldn’t the foundation have “chosen a black American, let alone an American,” critics ask?
More egregiously, despite promises from the organization to use local unionized labor for the project, the sculpture was completed using workers imported from China working for nothing but “national pride.”
The fact that the Chinese workers were not being paid was only discovered when the BAC sent an investigator to determine if they were being exploited. While they were given room and board and hoped to be paid upon returning to China, using free labor to construct Kings monument seems to fly in the face of what he stood for. “It is a crime for people who live in this rich nation to receive starvation wages,” King told the Memphis workers.
Well, maybe we don’t actually know Martin Luther King, Jr.’s views on Chinese labor. If these were not Chinese workers from Tennessee, then really anything goes. [ThinkProgress]