Martin Luther King Memorial Statue
Backstory and Context
A statue of Martin Luther King Jr was erected in City Park in 1976. Artist Edwin Rose III chose to depict Dr. King and Emmett Till, a black youth who was murdered by white supremacists in 1955. The statue was entitled “Martin Luther King Jr., Prophet for Peace and was located in City Park for about two decades until it was moved to the basement of the Denver Art Museum. The statue was eventually transferred for display at the Martin Luther King Jr. Museum and Cultural Center in Pueblo.
Controversy ensued between the sculptor and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Fund who had commissioned the work. The funders expressed disappointment with the appearance of the statue stating, “Rose’s work didn’t look like King." The complaints centered upon the belief that King’s head was too large and the funders refused to pay rose for his work unless it was altered to better match their preferences. An aggrieved vendor who cast the statue in New York threatened to come and chop the head off the statue, in order to get paid. Rose sued the Memorial Fund and was eventually paid.
The current monument is a three-tiered sculpture. A bronze Dr. Martin Luther King Jr stands on a neoclassical-style pedestal. Beneath him are four key figures that fought for human rights: Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi, who demonstrated a non-violence approach to protesting British rule in India. Dr. King was inspired by is teachings during the Civil Rights Movement; Rosa Parks, who sparked a 381 day boycott of the Montgomery transportation system in 1955, by peacefully protesting her right to sit in a seat at the front of the bus; Frederick Douglas, a former slave turned abolitionist, political figure and freedom writer who influenced Dr. King's speeches; and Sojourner Truth a former slave who fought for the abolition of slavery and rights for minorities and women. On the pedestal below these figures are two bronze reliefs that highlight the African American history from slavery to the 1960's.
The statue was created by Ed Dwight. It was dedicated in City Park in 2002. This statue was also questioned for the same reason as the previous statue, and the artist also defended his work as an accurate depiction of King. The memorial site is an annual meeting place for the Denver Parade every January. The parade is a celebration of the man, the myth, and the legend, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The parade starts in City Park and travels all the way down to the Capitol Building in Civic Center Park.
- Culver, Virginia . Statue stirred controversy, The Denver Post. May 6th 2009. Accessed June 16th 2020. https://www.denverpost.com/2009/05/06/statue-stirred-controversy/.
- Martin Luther King Day, Denver Mile High City. Accessed June 16th 2020. https://www.denver.org/things-to-do/fall-winter/denver-mlk-day/.
- Noel, Thomas J. Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, The Denver Public Library. January 1st 2006. Accessed June 16th 2020. https://digital.denverlibrary.org/digital/collection/p15330coll14/id/55/.