Dana King's sculptures honoring the women of the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Clay Williams)
Dana King says she's visited the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala. five times in three days, and each time she's seen it, she's cried.
"It's awe-inspiring, it's humbling, it's inspirational on a level I can't even verbalize," King said on the phone Friday.
But King didn't go to Montgomery as a mere visitor of the new memorial. At the behest of the Equal Justice Initiative, the organization behind the memorial, King built and contributed one of the sculptures on the memorial's campus — a collection of three bronze statues dedicated to the women who participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1956.
"They're the ones whose work days increased to 12-16 hours because they chose not to use public transit," King said.
Having her work included in such an important monument is quite an achievement for an artist who started making art at the age of 50. Now a 58-year-old grandmother, King says sculpting is her third career and her true calling, which came after 25 years as a broadcast journalist.
"That's when a whole new world opened up to me," King said. "I did not see myself in this space, but I'm here and I'm grateful."
A New Form of Storytelling
King started her art career while working as an anchor at KPIX (CBS 5). She says she always knew she'd retire from broadcast journalism after she turned 50, because she didn't want to have to "cut and paste" herself to keep up with "society's standards for beauty." When that time neared, she had an Emmy and two Edward R. Murrow awards under her belt.
A lover of art, King began pursuing an MFA from San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, where she discovered her love of sculpture. The medium worked well for her, she says; she found it to be another way to tell stories and inform the public.
"I'm still a journalist, but now my medium is clay," King said.
A few years after dedicating herself to art, she met with Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. By then, much of her work had a political bent to it, such as her 20 Years To Life, a comment on the school-to-prison pipeline. Some time later, he asked King to contribute a piece to the massive memorial he was putting together.
Montgomery Bus Boycott
Stevenson requested a sculpture honoring the women of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and King came up with the idea of three women -- a teacher, a grandma and a pregnant woman -- standing in a triangle, forming a strong, stable structure. King says it represents how women, through birthing, nurturing and teaching children, are, in a way, "quiet activists."
Using her reporting experience, she made sure that they looked like women did in 1950s Alabama. But she also tapped into her own story for the work by modeling the grandmother after her own great-grandmother, and the teacher after her aunt, who was also a teacher in the south during the Civil Rights Movement.
The experience has demonstrated to King that art can not only be a powerful form of activism, but of storytelling as well. She says that when she reported for broadcast, if viewers didn't see a story, they might've missed it compeltely. But when she tells a story through sculpture, it "lasts as long as the material lasts."
"The arc of justice is long. My dreams and aspirations for justice might not happen in my lifetime," King said. "And I'm good with that."
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