As you may have already read by now, Edward Rothstein of the NY Times feels the new Martin Luther King Jr Memorial on the National Mall is a “failure” for a number of reasons. I’m sympathetic on a certain level to his points, as the MLK seems like too much of an outlier as compared with most of the other memorials on the mall. Whereas many of the traditional monuments have some sort of classical architectural styling, MLK seems to have none of that. The formless stone towers at the entrance, as well as the slab that serves as the perch for the King half-statue itself, are visually underwhelming, aside from being tall. And that statue – much has been made of King’s stern posture and expression. I felt likewise when looking at preview photos, but felt less so when viewing in person. Going back and looking at the video I took, I’m edging back to my original opinion. There’s nothing particularly welcoming or inspiring about that statue. It’s big and its blah. The man deserved better than this. How about some feet, for starters?
As usual, security or whatever you’d like to call it, was inconsistent at best. When I showed up, there were two other people filming interviews separately. One was with NBC, according to his mic flag (I could get my own, and don’t think I haven’t given it consideration), and the other wasn’t decipherable. After they left, an old NPS volunteer told me to move my camera and 6-inch tripod off of the grass. So, I moved it a foot onto the marble ledge. Another guard, it a more formal police-looking uniform, watched as I spoke with people, but gave no indication I should stop. Then a different NPS person said there is no taping interviews in the memorial. I pointed out that there were, not 30 minutes ago, two different folks doing what I’m doing. He said that earlier in the week it was allowed, but not today. Obviously, I had to reiterate my point. I also pointed out, that interviewing needs a permit if done for “commercial purposes” per the NPS website. He did not understand what “commercial purposes” meant, thinking I was referring to filming commercials, saying “but it also pertains to breaking news.” I tried to explain that what I do isn’t “commercial” if NPS defines that as commerce changes hands in some way. But, it was like trying to explain Einstein’s work to a bear. It was clear this guy was more or less given a uniform and told to walk around and ask people to stop doing anything he couldn’t wrap his head around. At the end of our conversation, he finally said “well, I’d prefer it if you filmed it outside the monument.” And I’d prefer to make a million dollars doing this.
Outside, I spoke with a kid who identified himself as Frederick H. LaGarde, III, which is a perfectly fine name, but accidentally humorous in its formality when a 10-year-old kid claims it. According to his mother, and confirmed by a quick web search, his lineage is no joke, however. The kid’s grandfather was a close friend of Dr. King and well-known Pastor in Paterson, NJ. Dr. King spoke at LaGarde’s church a mere eight days before his death. My thanks to the LaGardes for letting me interview young Frederick, mom and son were very personable.