By Leo Coughlin
While city officials struggle with what appears to be a monumental if not overwhelming problem with a shattered economy that has double-decimated tax revenues, citizens traipsing through the Largo Library are puzzling over a bronze sculpture that purports to be the late Rev. Martin Luther King.
Given all the hullabaloo, sturm und drang, week after week discussion, statements (later reneged on) about who or what was going to pay for it, a malapropism in describing what it is, given all that, the subject qualifies under the heading of the mountain groaned and gave forth with a mouse.
And a very puzzling mouse at that.
Number one – whatever it is that is up there over the departure security area of the library doesn’t look anything like the late civil rights leader. Beauty, or recognition, or whatever is certainly in the eye of the beholder, but art works of the very famous ought to have a resemblance to the subject. This one does not, King family supposedly signing off on it or not.
Among those who have looked at the bronze and find it lacking in resemblance to King include members of the City Commission but they beg not to be named because it causes them such great discomfiture to be so pinned down, even by something very sublime like this. It might hurt someone’s feelings, so the truth can be ignored or abandoned in pursuit of kumbaya.
Let me encapsulate here in a relatively few words the involved and long history that is prologue and history to the curiosity that now has been produced.
It all began, once upon a time when Rodney Woods, then just a plain ordinary citizen of Largo, proposed a memorial to King – an elaborate setting in Central Park.
Woods’ idea was actually a follow-up to something Charlie Harper, then a member of the City Commission, voiced at a meeting one night – to wit, let’s try to get away from any hint of nasty racism in our fair city (or words to that effect).
Woods, a regular attendee as a good citizen at commission meetings and who was a regular at the citizen comments microphone, took up that cry and thus the King memorial proposal.
The sums to be spent on the memorial was later modified upwards (Steve Stanton, former city manager of uncertain memory wanted to spend a quarter of a million!) and then downwards (private funds by subscription only were to pay for it) and then by lip service (the City Commission authorized $15,000 to seed the public fund raising) and finally by the city alone and without help paying the bill for some $7,000.
Along the way, the current city manager very emphatically pontificated that private funds alone would pay for the King memorial, whatever it turned out to be.
But Woods, having become a member of the City Commission after winning a seat in the 2006 election, remained the one-person cheering squad and kept whooping for the King business, at one point trying to involve the governor who no doubt was consternated and confused and no doubt wondered what he should do to make sure he did not offend anyone.
Woods would have involved Barack Obama certainly except that the King memorial, which had now been turned into the idea of a bas relief to be located in the library, had been settled.
In all, funds contributed by ordinary citizens came only to $17.38 so the city, to put a lid on the whole project which literally dragged on for years just paid the $7,000 (a savings of $8,000! because $15,000 had been allocated) and prayed for it to go away.
The bas relief of someone who doesn’t look like King was dedicated February 21. A total of 12 members of the public turned up for the gala ceremony.
“Who is it?” one inquisitive gentleman among the group asked. No one dared say “Martin Luther King” for fear that making such a statement would put them in grievous error. Like, it could only be King if it looked like King, right?
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