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Civil Rights Memorial Takes Shape, Sparks Debate

Johns led the 450 students in a strike, which sparked a class-action lawsuit fought by attorneys Hill and Robinson. That suit was later combined with four others in the landmark Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education, which ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional.

Sculptor Stanley Bleifeld showed the commission his latest design for the monument, which takes the form of an 8-foot-tall, 11-foot-wide stone block carved on four sides with three-dimensional figures.

One long side depicts Johns leading fellow students; the two short sides show Hill and Robinson and the Rev. Leslie Francis Griffin, who was head of the Moton Parent Teacher Association; and the fourth side shows a row of modern-day, racially diverse young people.

Bleifeld, a well-known sculptor who specializes in public art commissions, told the commission that he didn't want to create "a wax-museum type of tableau," but rather a dynamic, lifelike piece.

The commission praised the concept but questioned some of Bleifeld's choices. Hassell said he was concerned about depicting John Stokes, one of the Moton student leaders. "I don't know the fellow," he said, "but generally, with the exception of the Oliver Hills of the world, you don't create memorials to people who are living." Hill, 100, is considered a living civil rights legend.

The figures around Johns could be made generic, rather than portraits, but why? Bleifeld asked. "I want to emphasize the characters."

The commission members also debated how to identify the figures. "It's almost heresy to say this," McClellan said, but some kids enrolled in a summer program named for Hill don't even know who he is.

Members finally voted to approve the designs and to work on identifying appropriate inscriptions. Bleifeld listened solemnly to their suggestions — including Collis' comment that one girl's hair was "too fashion-y" — and said he'd keep them in mind.

In September, the commission will meet again to see the revised plans. The memorial is expected to be installed in Capitol Square in 2008. S

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