Sunday, January 15, 2012

Martin Luther King Emerging form hard stone

January 15, 2012 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)

  • Controversy over Martin Luther King Memorial includes truncated quotation
  • Maya Angelou charged that paraphrase makes King seem "arrogant"
  • Most people think only of "I have a dream," but King far more complex, challenging
  • King's words and humanity still speak to us today
(CNN) -- Of course a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. was going to be controversial.
The man himself was controversial, notes LaSalle University sociology professor Charles Gallagher. King -- bound up with issues of racial and economic inequality that spotlight America's worst sins -- is a "Rorschach test," Gallagher says, that people see in King what they want to see.
Still, few of the organizers of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington may have expected that every little detail would be so scrutinized, criticism that has continued right up to the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day since it opened last fall.
Late Friday, the Department of Interior -- which has jurisdiction over the memorial -- announced a quotation in the memorial's King sculpture would be changed. This action followed months of complaints about the language of the quotation, which had been paraphrased from a passage in a King sermon.
The memorial itself consists of the 30-foot sculpture of King, called the "Stone of Hope," in which the civil rights leader emerges from a portion of a granite slab. Some yards away is a mountain of granite; together, the pieces give life to King's words from his 1963 March on Washington address: "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope." Nearby stands a low wall engraved with 14 King quotations on subjects including love, justice and hope.
The disputes started not long after the memorial was officially approved about 15 years ago.
Initially, there was disagreement over the location; several months went by before a Tidal Basin site was selected. There were criticisms about the choice of sculptor Lei Yixin, a Chinese national; the use of Chinese granite; King's pose, which has been called "confrontational"; and even its scale, which has been likened to Soviet-style monumentalism.

Controversy over new MLK sculpture

Angelou criticizes King Memorial passage

The capper may have come last fall, when the carving was unveiled. One side of the Stone of Hope features a quotation drawn from "The Drum Major Instinct," a 1968 King sermon: "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness."
The words, critics have noted, were edited from a longer quotation in which King stressed the conditional: "If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice," the passage begins.
Poet Maya Angelou, a member of the MLK Memorial's Council of Historians, told The Washington Post that the inscription made King look like "an arrogant twit."
"He would never have said that of himself. He said 'you' might say it," she said.
Ed Jackson Jr., the memorial's executive architect, responded that the quote was paraphrased for space reasons and that the National Commission for Fine Arts, which oversees the memorial, "didn't have a problem with it."
Friday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar gave the National Park Service 30 days to consult with the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, members of the King family and others to decide on a more accurate version of the quote, a department official told CNN.
Historians have mixed feelings about the quotation. One said he was troubled; another called the dispute "a tempest in a teapot."
Indeed, King isn't the first luminary to have a quotation misused. The Jefferson Memorial, across the Tidal Basin "juxtaposes fragments (of Jefferson's writings) ... to create the impression that he was very nearly an abolitionist," writes historian James Loewen, author of "Lies My Teacher Told Me."
But perhaps the primary criticism leveled at the memorial is one that can be aimed at any creation of this type: that it freezes its subject in stone. Sculptor Daniel Chester French's Abraham Lincoln, across the Mall, is a gorgeous work, but he is now brooding for all eternity. Franklin D. Roosevelt, nearby, was originally represented by a statue apparently based on the weary president at Yalta; a second FDR, showing him in a wheelchair, was added after protests.
Martin Luther King was a complex man, but how much does the memorial capture that complexity? For that matter, how much does any consideration of the civil rights leader?
"King has been sanitized by a generation, if not two generations, of elementary school kids being raised on Martin Luther King as a dreamer," said University of Hartford history professor Warren Goldstein. "The sanitizing of King's reputation that's happened as the result of the endless repetitions of 'I have a dream' has meant that most people know relatively little about King."
Truth and power
Much of King's fame rests on saying truth to power. He preached about inequality; he marched to change laws and minds. When he was assassinated, he was planning a massive Washington protest for his "Poor People's Campaign" that, if organizers thought it necessary, would have shut down the city. An "Occupy Washington," if you like.
For his troubles, he was insulted, beaten, jailed and had his house bombed.
"King was one of the most admired and arguably the most hated man in America, even at the time of his death," Goldstein said.
And King was, pardon the phrase, an equal-opportunity challenger. He exhorted the dominant white culture to live up to the Founders' promises, but he also confronted African-Americans to improve their place in life.
The TV series "The Boondocks," based on the Aaron McGruder comic strip about two angry black kids in suburbia, offered a sense of the King who struggled to be heard. In perhaps its most famous episode, the Peabody-winning "Return of the King," King didn't die in 1968 but lay in a coma for more than three decades. Upon viewing 21st-century black culture, he berates an audience of African-Americans and storms off.
Even King's most famous speech, the stemwinder given at the 1963 March on Washington, wasn't all about "I have a dream." That portion, which closed the address, was an improvised conclusion to a speech that began with a call for economic and social justice.
"Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds,' " he says early in the speech.
Those issues of poverty and equality still matter today, says Jason Purnell, a public health professor at St. Louis' Washington University.
"The problems of the poor and the problems of the African-American community are American problems," said Purnell, who co-wrote an opinion piece about the subject for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "If you have an entire segment of the population that's in poor health or doesn't have access to educational resources, that's a drag on the economic output of the United States, and it's abandoning a resource that your country has."
The post-King generation
Part of the problem, says Gallagher, ironically lies in the progress of the African-American community since the heyday of the civil rights movement. The black middle class has grown, black culture is more mainstream, and the United States even has a black (or, as some would emphasize, biracial) president now.
"A lot of white America, if you look at the survey data, have come to believe that the goals of the civil rights movement have been achieved," he said.
Most people know relatively little about King.
Warren Goldstein, University of Hartford history professor
And yet it wasn't so long ago that even the prospect of a Martin Luther King Day engendered protests. The first bill to create a federal holiday failed in 1979; it took corporate activism and a "Happy Birthday" song from Stevie Wonder to raise its public profile. It was signed into law in 1983 and first observed in 1986 -- though not every state went along with the idea. A late-'80s move by Arizona to rescind the holiday cost the state the 1993 Super Bowl.
But now that the third Monday in January is an official day off, it's easy to overlook the man the day is named for. Some communities and schools stress public service to honor King and his ideals, but -- like so many other American holidays -- Martin Luther King Jr. Day has become an excuse for appliance sales, social gatherings and sleeping in.
"I think you get a real mixed sort of response to King Day more than any of the holidays I know of," said Houston Roberson, a civil rights historian and professor at Tennessee's University of the South. "My sense is, in the places I've lived, the efforts (at service) tend to be led by older people. My concern is that it might not be translating to the next generation."
Indeed, because spring semester at many colleges doesn't begin until after King Day, students are usually just arriving for classes around the holiday.
Roberson also finds that his students have a "pretty one-dimensional" understanding of the man, believing that King was raised poor (he was actually from a middle-class Atlanta family) and that he deserved the lion's share of the credit for the civil rights movement, as opposed to being one of many leaders.
"I think he would want my students to know that more people than just him and a few other preachers were involved in the movement. So what I try to do in my classes is to complicate their idea of who he is, both as a man and as a leader," Roberson said.
And, as scores of biographers have revealed, King was eminently human: emotional, guilt-ridden, flawed. Goldstein, who teaches a freshman seminar on King, says his students -- black and white -- are surprised to find out about King's early life, which included flashy clothes and a ladies' man reputation. After reading one letter in which a youthful King boasted about his skills as a seducer, one student expressed shock.
"I think he's kind of a tool," she told the class.
The inspirational King
Certainly, King's hopes are by no means fulfilled.
Our political invective -- some aimed at the have-nots, sometimes racially tinged -- is harsher than ever. During the Republican primary campaign, both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were called out for comments directed at African-Americans. (Santorum, who had said, "I would not make black people's lives better by giving them other people's money," later denied that he had used the word "black" but said he had gotten "tongue-tied" and said "blah.")
And we live in an atomized culture, one in which it's easier than ever to tune out the issues of the world, even as we're more connected than ever. It's led to more shouting, more self-promotion, more ego.
Which is why King still matters. He still has much to teach us.
Would King have minded a Chinese sculptor? No, believes Roberson; King's beliefs about people were not based on race. Would King have disliked his forthright pose? It may not be reflective of the whole man -- few statues are -- but it certainly stands for the challenge he offered America.
And his memory still has meaning.
Kevin Liles, a businessman and former record label executive, thinks of King in his many philanthropic activities. Andrew Rojecki, a communications professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, finds that his students -- born a quarter-century after King's death -- respond to King's name with respect and admiration, which left Rojecki "really heartened and surprised."
Attendance at the MLK Memorial has been strong since it opened in September. The National Park Service, which monitors the Mall attractions, says that 382,000 visited the first month, more than came to the FDR Memorial. In October, the most recent month for which statistics are available, the MLK Memorial drew 448,000 people, almost 50,000 more than the Lincoln Memorial.
So committees may bicker. Politicians may argue. Citizens may wonder what all the fuss is about.
Perhaps, then, it's best to let King have the last word. "The Drum Major Instinct," after all, was played at his funeral, two months after he delivered it at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church on February 4, 1968.
Out of context or not, his speech still reverberates.
In the sermon, King -- drawing on the biblical story of Jesus, James and John (Mark 10:35-45) -- talked about the instinct "to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first." He requested his congregants put humility first and keep their egos in check.
"There comes a time that the drum major instinct can become destructive," King said. "If it isn't harnessed, you will end up day in and day out trying to deal with your ego problem by boasting."
At its worst, King said, the drum major instinct may lead to elitism and racial prejudice. But, he added, the instinct may be used for good -- for justice, for love, for generosity. It's a belief that's worth taking to heart at the King Memorial, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, anywhere or anytime.
"If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice." ("Amen," called the congregation.)
"Say that I was a drum major for peace." ("Yes.")
"I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter."
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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Nelson Mandela's life story to be turned into TV drama | World news | The Guardian

File photo of  Nelson Mandela formally announcing his retirement from public life in Johannesburg
The life of Nelson Mandela will be the subject of a six-hour mini-series, titled Madiba. His grandson Kweku Mandela will be a co-producer. Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

The life of Nelson Mandela is to be the subject of a $20m (£13m) TV mini-series spanning six decades and the momentous events leading to his election as South Africa's first black president after 27 years in jail.

Mandela, now 93, has given his approval for the six-hour drama, which is due to go into production later this year, shooting primarily on location inSouth Africa.

Casting is still being finalised. Mandela has previously been played on screen by Morgan Freeman in Clint Eastwood's 2009 film Invictus.

The producers are in talks with broadcasters in the UK and US about the project.

The scripts are based on two books optioned by the producers, the autobiographical Conversations with Myself and Nelson Mandela By Himself, which features authorised quotations. The programme-makers have also been given access to the archives of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Entitled Madiba, the clan name from the Xhosa tribe by which Mandela has often been known, the mini-series is being co-produced by his grandson, Kweku Mandela, and the UK film-makers who were behind The Queen and The Damned United.

Kweku Mandela said Madiba would not just be another project painting his grandfather as "Mandela the saint", but would seek to credit the many people who helped shape his life story.

He added that the producers were also seeking to educate a new generation about the system of apartheid through which South Africa's white minority oppressed the black majority for more than 40 years up to 1990. The first democratic elections open to all races were held in 1994.

The series will also examine Mandela's relationship with his mother and her impact on his character. Mandela's father died when he was a child.

Born in 1918, Mandela joined anti-apartheid organisation the African National Congress – which celebrated its 100th anniversary at the weekend – in the mid-1940s and founded the ANC youth league with others including Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo.

Mandela qualified as a lawyer in the early 1950s and opened a law firm in partnership with Tambo, while the pair continued to campaign against apartheid.

As resistance to the National Party's apartheid regime grew, the ANC was outlawed in 1960, and four years later Mandela and other leaders of the anti-apartheid movement were sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent 18 years of his imprisonment at Robben Island before being transferred to the South African mainland.

A campaign to free Mandela became the focus of international opposition to apartheid, with a regime of sanctions imposed on South Africa. In the face of this mounting international pressure, in 1990 South African president FW De Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC, with Mandela released from prison on 11 February that year.

Three years later Mandela and De Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel peace prize and in 1994 the ANC won South Africa's first multiracial democratic election, with Mandela becoming president. He stepped down in 1999 and retired from public life in 2004.

Madiba is being written by Nigel Williams, the British novelist, screenwriter and playwright, whose previous TV credits include an adaptation of his own novel The Wimbledon Poisoner and Elizabeth I, starring Helen Mirren.

The mini-series is being co-produced by UK film-makers Andy Harries and Marigo Kehoe through their production company, Left Bank Pictures, which has credits including the BBC's Swedish detective drama Wallander. Harries and Kehoe have previously collaborated on projects including The Queen and The Damned United.

Harries told the Guardian that during a research trip to South Africa for the project in May 2011, he and Kehoe had a brief meeting with Mandela to discuss the mini-series and get his personal blessing. They found him at his home in Johannesburg, sitting "in his armchair in his lounge reading the paper".

Harries said he believed a "quality six-hour TV series with a budget of over $3m an hour will be able to give the story the space and breadth it needs".

He added: "There is a whole generation of people who weren't even born when Nelson Mandela finally walked free from prison after 27 years in captivity in the early 1990s. His story is one that they need to know."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ethiopia's Oromo rebel group in surprise drop of secession demand -Africa Review

Members of the Oromo community living in the UK protest at a past G20 summit in 2009 against the Ethiopian government's perceived persecution of the ethnic group. The Oromo Liberation Front has surprisingly dropped its decades-old secession agenda. PHOTO | BBC |
By ARGAW ASHINEPosted Tuesday, January 3 2012 at 09:52
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Ethiopia's oldest armed rebel group Oromo Liberation Front(OLF) has allegedly announced the abolishment of its long held secession agenda and says it will now fight for unity and freedom.
Political commentators analysing what would be a remarkable and significant move in Ethiopian politics say it could potentially further weight the opposition to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government.
The rebel group was established in the late 1960s and was recently together with Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda designated as a terrorist organisation by the Ethiopian government.
"The new OLF political programme will accept the new federal democratic republic of Ethiopia that will work for the betterment (sic) of all of its citizens, neighbouring countries and international communities," a statement released by the OLF National Council partly read.
"The OLF National Council also focused on the timely demand of working with other democratic forces in forming the new Ethiopia that will guarantee and protect the fundamental rights of all peoples in Ethiopia," it added.
The former rebel group expressed its readiness to work closely with other political organisations to topple Mr Meles. It was not immediately clear if the new position enjoys wide endorsement.
During its extraordinary conference held on Monday in Minnesota in the US, which is the home of thousands of ethnic Oromo, the group launched its revised political position which envisages unity.
Change core ideology
OLF leader General Kemal Gelchu said through an online video message that OLF has decided to change its core ideology and would instead fight for justice and democracy in Ethiopia.