It begins with a statue. Barrington McLean, the first African American faculty member at Cabrillo College, created a bust in Martin Luther King Jr.’s likeness. The bronze casting of the civil rights leader was once housed in a six-acre public sculpture park at the Marina Airport called Sculpture Habitat. Former Weekly staff writer Sue Fishkoff included a history of the statue in a story about the park in 1999. Fishkoff quoted Charles “Larry” Fischer, the man behind the park, who said there won’t be any “controversial” pieces in the park. “[Marina has] a say in what goes in… So you won’t see any sexually explicit work, or anything that insults a racial group,” Fischer stated.
Twenty-one years later, Marina is talking about the sculpture again, but this time it has generated some controversy.
When a nearby water tower came down, King’s bust came down for safekeeping. Ever since, it has collected dust in Hanger 524. Today, Marina Mayor Bruce Delgado wants to find it a new home.
Delgado proposed to Marina City Council that they should reach into their city coffers – for around $10,000 – to rehouse the bust in a publicly viewable area.
In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has moved people to take down symbols of the United States’ history of enslavement and the oppression of Black people and other minorities, Delgado sees putting up the sculpture of King as a quick and appropriate response. “You have to be in the mind of an oppressed person to know what it means when you have a statue glorifying someone you understand that has caused your identity or your culture harm,” Delgado says. “If there are signs displaying hurt and despair that you could relate to, [this piece] goes a long way to showing that the city sees you and appreciates you.”
But that inclusive message and “not controversial” bust became a source of tension when city council convened on June 23 for a budget hearing. Some comments Delgado faced ran the gamut of “not the time or place” to outright denial that racism “doesn’t exist” in Marina.
Another argument he heard: the project shouldn’t come at the taxpayers’ expense, given the economic downturn. “It was the same arguments people of color keep hearing every time they want change: ‘Now is not the time,’” Delgado says. “We have the budget. We tout our diversity. But we’re not even giving them a dime.”
City council voted 3-2 to pass the budget, without allocating funds for the bust.
Mayor Pro Tem Frank O’Connell says declining to fund the statue doesn’t mean that Marina is shying away from confronting racism. Although that $10,000 item didn’t make the cut, a $45,000 commitment to do a study of potential racism in City Hall did.
“Any person who doesn’t think racism exists must be living in a fantasyland,” O’Connell says. “I don’t think racism exists in City Hall, but we owe it to ourselves that when a situation arises, it should be expressly treated and corrected; $45,000 is not enough for that, frankly, but it’s a start.”
Weeks prior, O’Connell authored a proclamation establishing June 17 as the city’s annual Civil Disobedience Day. “I was concerned that people who want to protest in a civil manner would be too afraid because they believe authorities will act violently as so many are across the nation,” he says. That proclamation passed unanimously on June 16.
Progress aside, Delgado wasn’t happy the council didn’t come around to funding the statue. He took to social media to post his frustration – and stumbled upon a solution.
Overnight, an anonymous donor pledged $10,000. Others followed, donating varying amounts to The Marina Foundation toward getting the statue cleaned and installed. As of June 29, they’ve raised around $16,500. “If you want change, you need money,” Delgado says. “People are doing that work.”