If you are familiar with the memorials that dot Central Park in downtown Mansfield, then you already know that one of those monuments honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for whom this Monday is a national holiday in which we celebrate his importance and his legacy.
The monument to Dr. King was a labor of love that began well over 20 years ago, with the 1999 formation of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Recognition Committee. The group was created between 1998 and 1999, after failed attempts to persuade the City to memorialize King by, for example, renaming a section of U.S. Route 30 in his honor.
The Recognition Committee began fundraising for the monument, and the City agreed that the memorial could be placed in Central Park. In September 2001, it was announced that a Chagrin Falls sculptor named Dale Slavin had been chosen to design the memorial. It was not until January 2006 that a team, including Slavin and employees from a monument company, installed a pair of 3,000 pound granite slabs in Central Park; this was just the first phase of the project. In May 2007, a bust of Dr. King that is three times larger than life-size was added to the memorial site in Central Park to complete phase the second and final phase. Finally, on June 16, 2007 an official dedication ceremony was held.
Two pieces of public art by Slavin can be found in the Cleveland area — “The Gift” in Elyria, and “Joie de Vie” in Beachwood.
Given the fact that Dr. King did not live in Mansfield, or even Ohio, it may seem perplexing that the Recognition Committee went to the lengths it did, spending years raising funds for this memorial. In a Mansfield News Journal article from the memorial’s dedication, the best quote might be this one from the Reverand Joel King, Jr., a cousin of Dr. King’s, who said to the gathered crowd at the dedication, “It’s easier to build monuments than it is to make the world a better place.”
It was Rev. King’s father, also named Joel, who was the minister who hosted Dr. King when he arrived for his first visit to Mansfield on September 23, 1962. This event was discussed in a recent post by The Sherman Room at the Mansfield – Richland County Public Library, which can be found here.
Those who are interested may want to take a visit to downtown Mansfield’s Central Park to admire the memorial and read the words carved in granite. Each January, his national holiday is intended to be a day of service in which Dr. King is celebrated by individual acts of kindness and group service projects alike.
Sources: MRCPL, Mansfield News Journal