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MLK bust will return to Greensboro neighborhood

January 2, 2019

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — After the Jan. 21 parade honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the city will celebrate the late civil rights leader in art.

A bronze bust of King will be unveiled atop a granite base on the northeast corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Bragg Street. A ribbon will be cut to open a new half-mile section of the Downtown Greenway there.

“It’s coming back home,” said Carl Brower, vice president of the Ole Asheboro Neighborhood Association.

The bust has quite a backstory, involving its sculptor Wilbur Lee Mapp, the city, metal sculptor Jim Gallucci, Downtown Greensboro Inc., the Ole Asheboro Neighborhood Association and Downtown Greenway planners.

Mapp, who died Nov. 12 at age 80, created the original bust in cement and painted it gold. In 1995, it was unveiled in Ole Asheboro, in front of Project Homestead offices.

King had been scheduled to speak in Greensboro on April 4, 1968, the day that he was assassinated. He canceled his appearance to remain in Memphis in support of striking black sanitation workers.

Project Homestead ran into financial troubles and closed. The city relocated the bust downtown, to the corner of MLK Drive and South Elm Street.

Its condition deteriorated. In August 2017, the city arranged to move it to Gallucci’s studio.

Gallucci suggested casting it in bronze to make it more durable. Mapp touched up the original so that Gallucci could make a mold and a wax casting. Carolina Bronze Sculpture in Seagrove created the bronze bust from the casting.

Replacing the original bust at Elm Street and MLK Drive was the towering gate that Gallucci created to honor the victims and heroes of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, using twisted steel from the destroyed World Trade Center towers.

City and private funds paid for the bust project, the cost of which has not been finalized, said Kym Smith of the city Transportation Department.

The bust’s move back to the Old Asheboro neighborhood initially prompted controversy.

Moving the bust “off the main street and into a black neighborhood,” one Facebook post said, “has the appearance of compartmentalizing civil rights in relationship to Greensboro’s black community.”

But no one in the Ole Asheboro Neighborhood Association voiced opposition, Brower said.

On Elm Street, turning vehicles and vandals damaged it. It also should be more visible in its new location, just two blocks from where the concrete bust once stood, he said.

“With the street name and the neighborhood itself being predominately African-American, it brings hope and a reminder of the importance of Martin Luther King Jr.,” Brower said.

Brower, Gallucci and Mapp’s family regret that Mapp won’t be there.

Mapp died from a combination of issues related to aging, said Ray Mapp of Asheville, the oldest of Wilbur Mapp’s three children.

They plan a future memorial service.

In his younger years, Wilbur Mapp attended N.C. A&T with the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He taught art at Livingstone College in Salisbury. He carved chess sets, with two African tribes as its pieces.

“He has done some fabulous staff,” Ray Mapp said.

His bust of Martin Luther King Jr. is probably his most well-known piece in Greensboro. Mapp did get to see the bronze sculpture at Gallucci’s studio before he died.

“He was so happy when he left,” Gallucci said.

The new bronze bust weighs 70 to 80 pounds, compared with the original at 150 pounds, Gallucci said. It’s a bit smaller, at 22 1/2 inches tall, 33 inches wide and 15 inches deep.

For the time being, both reside at Gallucci’s studio.

Gallucci doesn’t know what will happen to the original. He said he would talk with Mapp’s family about giving it to them.

The new bust will become one reminder of Mapp’s accomplishments.

“We all need a legacy,” Gallucci said, “especially in our work.”

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Information from: News & Record, http://www.news-record.com

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