“Thank you Mayor de Blasio for building monuments that represent real terror,” tweeted feminist journalist Cecily McMillan after the unveiling of a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Manhattan’s Lafayette Park on Saturday. “He is not fictional & the real terror here is the fear we must all have of white supremacy. #N2C.”
Mr. de Blasio’s office previously received criticism for putting up a statue of a person waving a Confederate flag at the dedication of the Central Park bike path after the 2016 summer of violence in Charlottesville, Va. On Saturday, the mayor did not promote the new statue — appropriately, it appears to be a phalanx of human shields — but instead spoke in support of the endeavor at a sidewalk ceremony attended by dozens of African-American leaders.
“One of the things I want everyone to know is that I really believe in the power of public art,” Mr. de Blasio said in his remarks, before adding, “I think that this monument stands for something far more powerful and we have to talk about public art and different kinds of public art all the time,” including the dedication of plaques along Broadway in honor of King’s speech in Riverside Church on the anniversary of his assassination in 1968.
The statue, which is three-feet tall and weighs 65 pounds, is a three-dimensional version of a photograph taken in 2004 by photographer Walter Villa. Mr. Villa, who was at the ceremony, shot the image of a man wearing a black suit and sunglasses standing in front of another figure wearing a suit, several medals and a hand-drawn silhouette of a horse bearing the infamous Confederate flag, which Mr. de Blasio took the opportunity to decry.
“It is a symbol of Southern culture and Southern pride and more than that, it is a symbol of white supremacy and the power of white supremacy to impose its own traditions over others. That is what we are condemning here today,” the mayor said, after noting the efforts of artists to put a new face on the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest — the Confederate general who founded the Ku Klux Klan and wrote the Jefferson Davis Pledge — as a celebration of the triumph of the civil rights movement. “When we honor this man today, it also doesn’t mean we’re doing it as a celebration of white supremacy. It means we are acknowledging and giving dignity to black Americans and telling our own story.”