Berkeley landscape architecture professor selected to be jurist
for Martin Luther King Memorial design
Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs
These days, Randy Hester, Jr., a professor at the University
of California, Berkeley, is brushing up on the life and lessons
of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But it's not just to
prepare for the Jan. 17 national holiday honoring the slain
civil rights leader.
has work to do.
is one of nine design and architecture professionals appointed
by the MLK Project leaders to select the best design for a Washington,
D.C., monument to King. The international competition has a
May 1 deadline, and a winner will be announced on June 15.
a landscape architecture professor who grew up in rural North
Carolina as the son of a poor, white farmer, called the jury
appointment "one of the most flattering honors of my whole
jury members include Charles Correa of Bombay, designer of the
Gandhi Museum in India; and architecture professor Wu Lang Yung
at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
monument will be erected on 4-acre parcel across the Tidal Basin
from the Jefferson Memorial and north of the memorial to President
Franklin Roosevelt. More than 1,000 entries have been submitted,
surpassing those for the Vietnam War Memorial.
tribute to the man who spurred a movement for blacks, the poor
and the underprivileged seems a perfect task for Hester, who
specializes in neighborhood design, community participation
and sacred landscapes. He studied landscape architecture and
sociology at North Carolina State University and Harvard University.
comes from a lived experience that allows him to understand
what was happening in the South in the time of segregation and
what was happening in the time of civil rights," said fellow
jurist LaVerne Wells-Bowie, co-manager of the King competition
and an associate professor of architecture at Florida A&M
(Hester) lived that dilemma of understanding (the injustice)
and (yet benefiting from) white-skinned privilege," said
Wells-Bowie, a UC Berkeley graduate familiar with Hester's work
around the world.
childhood poverty, personal sense of justice and interracial
friendships also added critical dimensions to his life. His
college days were jarred by John F. Kennedy's assassination
during his first year there and King's slaying in his last.
was no upper middle-class, white liberal abstraction,"
Hester said of his upbringing. "Black people weren't abstracted,
they were real. They were people I knew."
20, Hester alienated his father when he moved into what Hester
called a $43-a-month "shotgun house" in the predominantly
black Chavis Heights neighborhood in Raleigh, N.C. . He already
had worked on successful efforts to derail urban renewal projects
that would have devastated and isolated poor black neighborhoods.
He continued on similar projects.
learned a huge amount living there, and it was an incredible
sense of community," Hester said. "It was the greatest
sense of community, the greatest neighborhood I have ever known."
then began teaching. With his students he formed a "New
Lands" organization to help poor residents resist eviction
and remain in their homes. He was elected to the Raleigh City
Council in 1976, using his position to allocate federal community
development funds for day care, jobs and other services in Chavis
largely from his experience there, Hester wrote a book called,
"Neighborhood Space," arguing that typical neighborhoods
were designed for the middle-class resident and promoted isolation
more than community. The tight layout of Chavis Heights, with
its narrow streets and other forms, contributed to its sense
of community, Hester said. For more than a decade, he focused
his writing on the design of homes, parks and other space, often
specifically for minority groups.
learning of his appointment, Hester has been re-reading King's
works. He said he's finding dozens of extraordinary speeches
and essays to inspire and provoke the designers.
powerful, he said, is King's letter from the Birmingham jail,
and a passage assailing Christian churches for too often placing
a need for societal order above social justice. "It's one
of the most interesting ideas that somebody who's designing
(the memorial) has to address," Hester said. "Is justice
Washington, D.C., setting for the memorial also is heavily dominated
by well-ordered space, he said, and a hierarchy that must be
evaluated by the designer.
King's speeches and writings were sophisticated and often subtle,
"the memorial has to provide some of that complexity,"
added that it also needs to reflect King's message of social
justice that "solidified a whole set of principles that
are the very best of America."