UPDATE, 2:49 p.m.: Mayor Nancy Vaughan is now walking back her proposal that the 9/11 sculpture be placed near the Greensboro Historical Museum. She called Triad City Beat to say: “I certainly like the location of the historical museum and the war memorial right outside of it, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only place it can go. There’s been an awful lot of work with the Downtown Residents Association, and the residents of Southside and Ole Asheboro. It appears they’re comfortable with the statue, and I know Jim Gallucci is talented and is going to do something thought-provoking.”
ORIGINAL POST: The bust of Martin Luther King Jr. that previously gazed westward from the terminus of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive at South Elm Street could potentially be replaced with a 9-11 sculpture by Greensboro metal artist Jim Gallucci.
Gallucci and his crew removed the concrete MLK bust on Aug. 16 and he is working with the original artist, Wilbur Lee Mapp, to have it cast in bronze.
Downtown Greensboro Inc. President Zack Matheny, said the MLK bust will be relocated to the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Bragg Street near the southeast corner of the Downtown Greenway.
As of Tuesday, a concrete pad had been poured for the new 9-11 sculpture and Gallucci said he expects his crew to bolt down some base parts today. He plans to have the 23-foot sculpture installed by Sept. 7. If the project remains on schedule, it will be in place four days before the 16th anniversary of the 2001 World Trade Center attack and three days before the National Folk Festival, an event that will bring thousands of visitors into downtown Greensboro.
“It’s about the whole day of 9/11, the people that were lost, the people that were found, the people that were searched for, the great giving of people who volunteered,” Gallucci said.
As a plaque on the MLK bust indicates, the piece commemorates the fact that King had been scheduled to speak at Trinity AME Zion Church in Greensboro on April 4, 1968, the day he was assassinated. He canceled the appearance so he could remain in Memphis, and the rest is history. The site is located on property owned by the city of Greensboro.
The removal of the MLK bust just days after a deadly car-ramming attack in Charlottesville during a white supremacist rally to defend Confederate monuments has caused some level of angst, with discussions rippling across local Facebook pages late Tuesday. The city had not previously publicized either the plan to relocate the MLK bust or to replace it with a 9-11 sculpture. Adding to the challenging optics of the planned swap-out, two Confederate memorials are located just down the hill from the site where the MLK bust was removed. The two Confederate monuments on a grassy patch owned by the North Carolina Railroad were erected by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in the 1980s. One commemorates a meeting between Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Generals Joseph E. Johnston and PGT Beauregard to discuss the implications of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender in April 1865. The other monument honors Guilford County residents who fought for the Confederate Army.
George Scheer, director of the Elsewhere artists collaborative, said in a public Facebook post on Tuesday that moving the MLK bust “off the main street and into a black neighborhood” — Ole Asheboro — “has the appearance of compartmentalizing civil rights in relationship to Greensboro’s black community.”
Among several other points, Scheer added, “An MLK statue is about civil rights and nonviolence in the face of white domestic terrorism. A 9/11 statue is about state power and political resilience in the face of foreign terrorism. White privilege makes it impossible to see the inherent ideology in exchanging one for the other.”
The Greensboro City Council unanimously approved an agreement to grant Downtown Greensboro Inc. an encroachment “to install the 9/11 World Trade Center Memorial Sculpture on the city’s property at 501 S. Elm St.” at its Aug. 15 meeting. The measure was approved without discussion as part of the consent agenda a the meeting, three days after the Charlottesville terror attack and two days after Mayor Nancy Vaughan, Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson and Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter spoke at a vigil to bear witness to the atrocities.
Vaughan said today that in hindsight the city should have communicated better and council should have handled the encroachment agreement as a separate business item so it could be discussed publicly.
“Everyone senses our heightened tensions due to what’s going on nationally,” Vaughan said. “This is a confluence of events that are beyond our control.”
In light of recent events, Vaughan said today that she favors having the 9/11 sculpture placed in a different location.
“I do like the idea of the 9/11 memorial,” she said. “I know downtown has been looking for some large pieces of art. Maybe a more appropriate place for this particular piece of art would be near the Greensboro Historical Museum near where the war memorial is. I believe the intentions were very good.
“I know people’s heads are going to explode when they hear that,” she added.
Matheny said the proposed relocation of the MLK bust and the choice to install the 9/11 sculpture at the same location evolved as separate initiatives. He also emphasized that the MLK bust was originally installed in front of Project Homestead south of Gate City Boulevard and was later moved to the location at the corner of South Elm Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive by the city after the nonprofit went under.
Matheny said the bust has been deteriorating and has been repeatedly knocked off its pedestal by vandals.
“The conversation began as: ‘What do we do? This isn’t a permanent situation for the MLK bust,’” Matheny said. “Working with Jim Gallucci we decided we could bronze it…. We talked to Wilbur. He was excited that we could bronze it permanently. Then we continued to talk to some folks in surrounding neighborhoods, including Ole Asheboro. The conversation was, ‘Why does it have to be where it was?’ Truthfully, not as many people saw it. Could we put it at a more prominent location?”
Matheny said the proposed relocation of the bust has been discussed at a meetings of the Downtown Residents Association and a public input meeting for the greenway that took place at New Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Ole Asheboro.
Sue Smotherman, the planning director for the city of Greensboro, said Matheny and Assistant City Manager David Parrish met with Carl Brower, vice president of the Ole Asheboro Neighborhood Association, to discuss the relocation of the MLK bust.
Matheny said the idea to install a piece of public art at South Elm Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive transpired after the decision was made to relocate the MLK bust. He added that Downtown Greensboro Inc. issued an RFP inspired by an effort to solicit bids to develop public art to replace a Confederate monument that was torn down in Reidsville. Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann recommended Gallucci, whose 9/11 sculpture has previously been installed in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, in Syracuse, NY, and in Dallas.
“One of the things Councilwoman Hoffmann said is we’ve got a wonderful artist that is local — Jim Gallucci,” Matheny recalled. “Jim has a very terrific piece of art that is in relation to the 9/11 memorial. It’s traveled over the country. It would be great to bring that home.”
Matheny and Vaughan noted that Greensboro holds ties to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack through Sandy Bradshaw, a Greensboro native and flight attendant who was killed when her flight went down near Shanksville, Pa., and David H. Griffin Jr., a local businessman who volunteered with the cleanup at the World Trade Center.
Matheny said he understands how the rearrangement of monuments in downtown Greensboro could unsettle people considering recent national events.
“I get this is a tough time in our community and our country,” he said. Acknowledging the nearby Confederate monuments, Matheny said community leaders have been cognizant “that was a concern — how do you move MLK back and keep the Confederate monuments?”
Matheny added, “The city of Greensboro and the leadership of the city of Greensboro are paying attention to them. At this stage, the city of Greensboro is going to reach out to the North Carolina Railroad and request permission to relocate that monument or whatever it may be.
“I will tell you they had this conversation yesterday,” he continued. “The city would like to move faster. It’s not on their property. If it was on city property they would be gone.”
Mayor Vaughan indicated she was aware of the discussion, but less familiar with the details.
“I can say the railroad was contacted, but I’m not sure about the owners of the markers,” she said. “I believe some staff members reached out to the railroad, and I believe Downtown Greensboro has reached out.”
Whether intentional or not, the messaging of the swap-out strikes some as a political signal that says more about the current era than the time the sculpture is meant to commemorate.
“Not unlike how most Confederate monuments were erected following great strides in the Civil Rights Movement, this 9/11 monument seems more geared towards furthering hate and ignorance-fueled rhetoric than actually honoring any sacrifices or bravery,” Peter Nathaniel said in a public comment on the Anti-Racist White Folks Serving Black Lives Matter Gate City Facebook page.
Gallucci indicated that his intent when he made the sculpture with steel salvaged from the World Trade Center couldn’t be further from inflaming hatred.
“That was a day of great tragedy and also great togetherness,” he said. “There were no ethnic boundaries those first couple weeks. We were first and foremost one nation.”