Unified Civic Monuments Project: Small Community Has Big Goals to Overcome Racial Divide Through the Power of Public Art

Benton Harbor, MI, January 29, 2024 — The only collaborative, multi-city monuments in the country honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are being raised in two small communities in southwest Michigan.

A river separates Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan, but their demographic and economic makeup are even more effective at keeping the residents separate and unequal. St. Joseph is 84% white and Benton Harbor is 87% Black; the median income in St. Joe is 2.5 times Benton Harbor’s. There have been a few high-profile, racially-charged tragedies in the past 60 years.

For fifteen years, Sharon Brown dreamed of raising a statue of Dr. King in her hometown of Benton Harbor, where she returned to found the AFrican AMErican History and Literature Gallery with her husband, Emanuel. She envisioned public art that would instill hope and pride in the residents who so often faced poverty, racism, and disillusionment.

In 2020, the Browns shared their dream with Julia Donahue Gourley and Tami Fauver of St. Joseph’s Krasl Art Center. They were moved enough by the Browns’ passionate description to offer to help make the project a reality. But Gourley said that St. Joseph needed their own monument to social justice as much as – or even more than – Benton Harbor to ward off complacency in the face of inequality and inequity.

The Browns’ Gallery and the Krasl were soon joined by partners Lake Michigan College and Berrien Community Foundation, as well as volunteers from around the community determined to uplift a message of peace and community.

The two cities formed the BH/SJ Arts and Cultural Social Justice and assembled a group of volunteers as the Unified Civic Monuments Project (UCMP). After a national search process, the group began working with artist team David Alan Clark and Harold Woodridge to design and install the bronze sculptures and surrounding interactive elements. The designs have been approved by both city councils, and both feature Dr. King inspiring a hopeful youth in unity and love.

UCMP has raised 90% of the $850,000 cost to raise the monuments, including large pledges and donations from locally-based Whirlpool Corporation, Corewell Health, and AEP. The group has been approved for a matching grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation through a Patronicity crowdfunding campaign. If they can raise $50,000 by February 15, the MEDC will match it, finishing off the $850,000 goal. The groundbreaking ceremony is planned for the week of Juneteenth 2024 and the unveiling will be scheduled upon completion in late fall. More information and the donation link can be found at patronicity.com/ucmp.

Unified Civic Monuments Project
The Unified Civic Monuments Project is led by the founders of the African American History & Literature Gallery, with the support of Krasl Art Center, Lake Michigan College, Berrien Community Foundation, the BH-SJ Arts & Culture Social Justice Group, and the cities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph.

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