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Community activist calling for replacement of MLK bronze bust

WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

On this Martin Luther King holiday, a bronze bust depicting Dr. King will take center stage in Buffalo.  WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says the activist wants the bust of King in MLK Park replaced.  

“And when they unveiled that head all of us was extremely disappointed,” Sam Herbert of Buffalo recalled. 

Sam Herbert of Buffalo is launching a petition drive. He’s seeking the removal of what he refers to as the "Black Head" in Buffalo's MLK Park.  The bronze bust was commissioned and unveiled in October of 1983.

“I was there for the unveiling in 1983 and I along with hundreds of people that were there, especially black people was very, very disappointed,” Herbert stated.  

Herbert will be holding a news conference at 10 a.m. Monday at the park in front of the head. He will being collecting signatures asking the city to remove the bronze bust. He wants it replaced a life-size statue that looks exactly like Dr. King.

“That man is deserving to be honored with a statue that looks exactly like him,” Herbert remarked.   

But the large bust was designed to be symbolic, not an exact likeness of King. The late John Woodrow Wilson, an African American artist from Boston, was inspired by Olmec heads of south-central Mexico.  Still, Herbert finds the bust an insult to the memory of Dr. King.

“They came up with a distorted look that was totally abstract and not real. Dr. King was a black man. Dr. King wasn’t born on the continent of Africa. He was born on American soil.  

But same 300-pound bronze sculpture is also at the Butler Institute of Art in Youngstown, Ohio.

WBFO reached out to the gallery director Louis Zona.  He declined a recorded comment, but wrote his response in an email.

"Eileen, The only thing that I would say about this is that the artist attempted to create a work that was both bold and strong and extremely sensitive...traits that we associate with MLK. When an artist works with bronze, it is not always possible to get a photographic likeness. It is a representation of the great man and not a copy of his face. Since we acquired our study for the Buffalo sculpture, it has been one of the most popular works of art in our collection. I do believe that John Wilson , a significant African American artist, attempted to pay homage to MLK as an heroic figure deserving of an imposing presence," Zona wrote.