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'Made in China' won't work for American icon

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POSTED: March 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.
As a teenager on a sweltering August day in 1963, I stood among 250,000 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and listened as a fellow son of Georgia described a dream he had.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. correctly predicted that day would "go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation." That was because, while African-Americans were suffering many forms of oppression, we still had the good fortune to live under a Constitution that gave us the right to peaceably assemble in the shadow of our U.S. Capitol, that gave Dr. King the freedom to speak his mind and that gave the news media the freedom to broadcast and report that dramatic event. Indeed, the whole world was watching.
Twenty-six years later, from the other side of the world, we watched, listened and read in horror as a similar demonstration for freedom resulted in hundreds of civilians shot dead by the Chinese army during a bloody military operation to crush a democratic protest in Tiananmen Square. The two events -- Washington in 1963, where a dream of freedom, opportunity and justice was launched, and Beijing in 1989, where a similar dream was aborted -- could not be more diametrically opposed.
That is one reason why so many Americans reacted in dismay when the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial -- on the very site of the "I Have A Dream" speech -- might feature a statue of Dr. King manufactured out of granite imported from, of all places, communist China.
The foundation in charge of raising the money and doing the planning for the MLK National Memorial is deserving of praise for an overall wonderful tribute to the life and legacy of Dr. King. But this particular decision -- honoring our greatest civil rights leader with stone imported from a world leader in civil rights abuses -- is both highly ironic and completely inappropriate.
"Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia," we hear Dr. King exclaim in the black-and-white film and crackling audio now 45 years old. Indeed, Stone Mountain is a massive piece of evidence that Georgia is ready, willing and able to provide the necessary granite for the construction of this memorial. And Elberton in northeast Georgia is the undisputed "Granite Capital of the World," with the quality stone, the wherewithal and human capacity to properly memorialize a great Georgian and American icon.
Now I realize that the relationship between our nation and the People's Republic of China has evolved over the years and our economies are now permanently intertwined. But with regard to China's record on human rights, even with the 2008 Olympics in Beijing only a few months away, there is still too much that has not changed.
After all, this is not a pair of athletic shoes or an electronic game we are talking about. It is a memorial to a native Georgian who, while challenging Americans of all races, lovingly referred to "my country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing."
In House Resolution 1115, a bipartisan team of co-sponsors is urging the memorial foundation to reconsider this decision. As long as there is sufficient granite here in the United States, specifically in his home state (and there is), it is extremely difficult to accept a monument to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stamped "Made in China."

Williams (D-Midway) is chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus.

 

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