Memphis to move historic King sculpture to new park to mark 50th Anniversary of Assassination

I Have Been to the Mountaintop sculpture

Crusader Staff Report

Memphis city officials plan to move a 40-year old sculpture of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to a new park in time to mark the 50th Anniversary of the death of the slain civil rights leader.

Richard Hunt

The massive structure, called I Have Been to the Mountaintop, was designed by sculptor Richard Hunt, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side. He studied at the University of Chicago and the Art Institute of Chicago. The sculpture will be moved from Memphis’ main street, North Main, to the corner of Second and Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard.

The sculpture will serve as the centerpiece of a new mini-park, the MLK Reflection Site, planned to honor the civil rights leader’s memory. The MLK Reflection Site is envisioned as a landscaped area with reflecting pools and historic images, at the southeast corner of the Memphis Light, Gas & Water headquarters. The city has not released a date when the park will be built and the sculpture moved.

King was killed April 4, 1968 as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. He was in Memphis to back sanitation workers who were striking for better wages and working conditions. The night before he was murdered, King gave a famous speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” which many historians believe was the leader’s premonition about his death.

Swing Low

Made of welded, weathering steel, the sculpture was dedicated on April 4, 1977, on the pedestrian mall in front of what is now Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. The structure is among several sculptures on the mall between Poplar and Exchange. The Mountaintop’s convex curves and abstract forms are believed to represent a mountain with a man ascending its peak.

Memphis is gearing up to mark a significant moment in its history. “On April 4, 2018, the eyes of the world will be on the city of Memphis, and the city of Memphis will respond in due measure,” Ursula Madden, communications director for Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, told the Downtown Memphis Commission in November.

In addition to The MLK Reflection Site, Memphis officials are also building other projects to honor King’s memory. Construction is underway on the I Am A Man Plaza next to Clayborn Temple on Hernando, a prominent gathering spot for civil rights activists who supported the sanitation workers in 1968.

The Mountaintop, near two other works of public art, sits near a section of Poplar Avenue that’s not particularly well traveled. A city official said the area serves as a ramp for skateboard enthusiasts.

Other city-sponsored MLK50 projects will include a ceremony honoring sanitation workers with legacy awards and a production at Cannon Center.  There will also be a fancy dinner for the workers and a reverse march from Memphis City Hall to Clayborn Temple, the place where King gave his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech.


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