City of Atlanta Selects a Black Artist from Nearly 100 Applicants to Create Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sculpture

The City of Atlanta has commissioned world-renowned sculptor Basil Watson to create a larger-than-life-size replica of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Watson, who relocated 18 years ago from Jamaica to Lawrenceville, Georgia, calls it a “great honor” as a Black artist to be selected from 80 other applicants.

Atlanta selected the figure artist for the job in 2018.

“Martin Luther King, Jr. is definitely one of the great human beings of the 20th century, and I grew up when he was in his prime, so I experienced a lot of his impact,” said Watson.

“My father painted a portrait of [King] in 1969 when he was at Spelman, so there were kind of serendipitous qualities of the whole thing,” he said. “It is humbling.”

The sculpture will likely be erected as tensions surrounding George Floyd’s death continue and Confederate monuments across the country start to come down. 

“The protests, the statues that are being taken down and the recognition that these statues do have a power and they were commissioned and installed because of the power that they do have, it brings a consciousness to the fact that public art that has a political message and does have power and opposition in the community,” Watson said.

While reportedly more than 700 Confederate statues still stand in the United States, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP Atlanta chapter’s president says it needs to change. 

“If the city really wants to honor the work and service of Dr. King, it would remove some of these Confederate monuments that still uphold white supremacy, uphold racial oppression,” president Richard Rose said.

Watson’s statue will stand 18 feet in the air in front of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium near Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

It’s expected to be erected in October 2020.

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