Foreign-Built Monuments a Shame

By Joel Joseph

On Labor Day weekend, I visited the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. I was shocked, disappointed and boiling mad to learn that the 30-foot tall statue of our leading civil rights leader was created by Lei Yixin, a Chinese sculptor, out of Chinese granite and carved in China. Couldn’t we find an African-American sculptor to carve Dr. King’s image in the United States out of American granite? Sadly, we didn’t even try: the bidding process was rigged.

Gilbert Young, an African American artist known for a work of art entitled “He Ain’t Heavy,” led a protest against the decision to hire Lei. Young launched a blog,, which demanded that an African American artist be used for the monument.

Ann Lau, a human-rights activist and arts advocate and American stone-carver Clint Button joined Young and national talk-show host Joe Madison in publicizing the protest when the use of Chinese granite was discovered. Lau decried the human rights record of the Chinese government and asserted that the granite would be mined by workers forced to toil in unsafe and unfair conditions. Button argued that the $10 million in federal money that has been authorized for the King project required it to be subject to an open bidding process. But the project was awarded without bids, a violation of government contracting laws, and contrary to what Dr. King stood for: equal opportunity.

From coast to coast the United States has used funds to buy imports that could have created jobs in America. On the West Coast, California ordered the rebuilding of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in China. The environmental cost of shipping a steel bridge 6,000 miles is very large, but was not considered. In addition, Chinese steel mills pollute significantly more than American mills, but that didn’t matter either. We have many monuments across the country that still remain from the Great Depression, built in the United States with US labor and materials. Have we learned nothing during the past 75 years?

Mr Lei, who has in the past carved two statues of Mao Tse-tung, one of which stands in the former garden of Mao Anqing, the Chinese leader’s son, carried out almost all of the work on the King Memorial in China. More than 150 carved granite blocks, weighing some 1,600 tons, were shipped from Xiamen to the port of Baltimore, and reassembled by a team of 100 workmen, including ten Chinese stonemasons brought over specifically for the project. The Obama administration had to grant permission for these foreign workers to work in the United States. Do you think that the Chinese government would have allowed American workers to work on a similar project in China?

In October, four enormous steel skeletons, the last of a dozen segments of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, will be shipped 6,500 miles from Shanghai to San Francisco before being assembled on site.

The bridge, which will connect San Francisco to Oakland on the other side of the bay, is a sign of how China has moved on from building roads and ports in Africa and the developing world and is now aggressively bidding for, and winning, major construction and engineering projects in the United States. Very few jobs were created in the United States by rebuilding the Bay Bridge, a bridge to nowhere, to no jobs and to no economic development.

The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, the Timberline Lodge on Oregon’s Mount Hood, the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, the Triborough Bridge, Lincoln Tunnel, La Guardia Airport in New York, the Overseas Highway linking the Florida Keys, the dams of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Hoover Dam, 325 firehouses, and 20,000 miles of water mains were built with federal government funding during the Great Depression. These great projects created millions of jobs for Americans. These were productive jobs whose benefits are still be reaped by people who were not even born during the Great Depression.

The Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridges were built during the Great Depression out of American steel, by American workers. The new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge will be made out of Chinese steel by Chinese workers. What monuments do we have to show for the Great Recession?

Repaving highways?

The Martin Luther King Memorial and the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge will live on for generations showing how the United States forgot about its hard-working middle class. Let’s hope that they are not a monuments to the end of the American success story. We still have a chance to turn our economy around by building lasting monuments to America’s “can-do” spirit.

Joel Joseph is chairman of the Made in the USA Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting American-made products. Email,

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2011

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