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Some in Largo unhappy with memorial plaque of King

The newly installed relief of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. culminates a 6-year effort to honor the civil rights leader.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

The newly installed relief of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. culminates a 6-year effort to honor the civil rights leader.

There's a new, little controversy, targeted at the city's effort to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

A few people have complained that the bronze plaque recently installed at the Largo Public Library doesn't look anything like King. It's ugly, one person informed city officials. It has a hippie mustache, said another.

City Manager Mac Craig shrugged off those critics.

"I guess you can't please everybody," said Craig. He emphasized that the plaque was approved by King's estate.

That process took several months. But it took the city almost six years to create a memorial for King.

The idea was originally proposed in 2003 as a memorial plaza at Largo Central Park. It came about while Largo was talking about naming a street after King.

City leaders were working hard to show Largo was inclusive.

There had been highly publicized incidents of racial insensitivity by city workers. And a Pinellas County Fair Housing Study showed that white renters were treated differently from minorities.

Around that time, the city, which is about 87 percent white, was also trying to reach out to neighboring Ridgecrest, which is primarily black.

At first, there was little controversy about the memorial. But as the plan for a plaza came closer to fruition, several residents told city officials the money should be spent elsewhere.

The plan languished for years, partly because it was tied to the renovation of the former library, which was later demolished.

In 2007, city leaders said the plaza was too expensive. And it wasn't the right financial time to move forward.

Eventually, about a year ago, city commissioners decided to put up a bronze sculpture of King at the library rather than build the plaza.

But the saga didn't end there.

Sometime around May of last year, the city manager contacted Arthur Furman, a Virginia-based art consultant and dealer. He commissioned an artist to create a solid bronze plaque. The artist, Rene Bonnard, who works in Thailand, also created a bronze K-9 memorial for Largo, Furman said.

The size, materials and cost, $5,800 plus shipping, were all worked out within a few weeks.

In June, the city contacted Intellectual Properties Management, the licensing arm of King's estate, to get permission for the plaque.

For five months, the city and IPM exchanged e-mails and calls.

By mid September, IPM gave the city preliminary approval to move forward with a sketch for the bronze.

But more than once, representatives questioned whether the artwork was original.

They said the art looked like King on a 1957 Time magazine cover and that the city would have to get permission from the artist who created that cover.

The cover was one of several pictures of King e-mailed to the estate's licensing arm. Furman explained that the artwork would be a composite adapted from the "best aspects" of them.

The third week of November, the city got final approval for the bronze.

By that time, Craig decided to have the sculpture shipped directly to the city by air freight, hoping it would arrive in time to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

That didn't happen. In November, antigovernment protesters in Thailand forced the closing of Bangkok airports.

The plaque finally arrived on Jan. 22. A couple of weeks ago, the city held a ceremony to honor King and his teachings and unveil the plaque.

Commissioner Rodney Woods, who was active in the city's effort to honor King before and after he was elected in 2006, said he was "pleased that the city has lived up to the ideals of honoring Martin Luther King."

"It proves that Largo is moving in the right direction," said Woods, the city's first African-American commissioner.

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,
A Time Line

June 2003: City Commissioner Harriet Crozier proposes building a memorial plaza to honor King at Largo Central Park.

October 2003: Largo's King Committee presents idea for plaza. Estimated cost: about $19,000.

January 2007: City Manager Steve Stanton proposes spending up to $250,000. Commissioners balk. Price reduced to $60,000.

September 2007: Commissioners delay project, set aside $15,000 for the memorial.

March 2008: Commissioners decide on a plaque instead of a plaza.

May 2008: City contacts art dealer, who selects artist in Thailand.

June 2008: The city contacts the licensing arm of King's estate to get the okay for the plaque.

November 2008: The plaque is approved. Protest in Thailand delays shipment.

Jan. 22, 2009: King plaque arrives.

Some in Largo unhappy with memorial plaque of King 03/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 7, 2009 3:06pm]
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