Houston Community News >> Chinese Sculptor Chosen to Carve Martin Luther King Memorial

2/15/2007-- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Chinese stone carver Lei Yixin says he was 10 years old when he first read about Martin Luther King Jr. historic "I have a dream speech" at the Lincoln Memorial.

Nearly four decades later, the master sculptor from China's Hunan Province says he never dreamed he would have a role in creating a memorial to the slain U.S. civil rights leader.

Lei, 53, will carve King's image in a 28-foot 10 meter granite boulder that will be the centerpiece of the memorial being erected on the national Mall between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, organizers announced on Thursday.

After a worldwide search, Lei was selected because of his expertise with granite, his experience and the high recommendation of his peers, said Ed Jackson, the King memorial's chief architect.

"Out of a population of 1 billion people, one out of nine that is considered a living national treasure among his peers, he is supposed to be the best in capturing facial features in stone," Jackson said a news conference introducing Lei, president of the Sculpture Association of Hunan.

Speaking through an interpreter, Lei, said he was "extremely lucky" to be chosen to work on the first monument to an African American to be erected on the Washington Mall.

But he said "tremendous pressure and responsibility" came with the job of creating a prototype for the "stone of hope" centerpiece. "I spent a whole lot of time gathering material about Dr. King," Lei said. "I tried to get the feel of what was inside his mind."

King, a Baptist preacher and Nobel Prize winner, led a bus boycott in Alabama that helped change segregation laws and led demonstrations that pressured Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act.

The King Memorial Foundation said its 12-member advisory panel, including poet Maya Angelou and historian John Hope Franklin, have chosen the quotations that will be engraved into the walls of the crescent-shaped four-acre 1.6 hectare site and into the stone centerpiece.

One side of the stone will feature a line from King's "I Have a Dream Speech" at the Lincoln Memorial in the summer of 1963. On the other side will be a passage from a speech delivered in Atlanta in which King gave his own eulogy, two months before he assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.

The memorial is scheduled to be completed in 2008.

(Contributed by Reuters)