by BRAD ROLLINS
Volunteers unveiled the final design last week of a sculpture honoring Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr. planned for the intersection of streets that bear the names of the two historical figures.
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The winning design by Baton Rouge, La.-based artist Aaron P. Hussey is inspired by a black-and-white photograph taken by White House photographer Yoichi R. Okamoto of Johnson and King leaning toward each other, deep in conversation, during a May 1966 meeting in the Oval Office. The previous year, Johnson had signed the Voting Rights of 1965 which prohibited literacy tests and other devices used to discourage black people from voting. That was a followup to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which Johnson signed in King’s presence after bulldozing the landmark legislation through a conservative U.S. Congress.
Hussey’s design features two curved benches, facing each other in an oval footprint, under a canopy etched with a silhouetted image of King and Johnson based on Okamoto’s photo. When the sun is shining, the design will cast a shadow of the Johnson-King image on the sitting area below or on the surrounding plaza, depending on the time of day.
“The challenge was: How do you make something in 248 square feet that represents these two men with dignity,” said Diane McCabe, a leader of the LBJ/MLK Memorial Crossroads Project Committee appointed by the San Marcos City Council to see the project through. Hussey’s design meets that challenge, McCabe said.
The MLK/LBJ memorial idea came to life in 2008 during Texas State University’s celebration of the 100th year anniversary of its most famous alumni’s birthday. In 2009, the Hays County Commissioners court donated the triangle-shaped parcel of land to the city of San Marcos, provided the city build the sculpture within five years.
The MLK-LBJ intersection two blocks south of the downtown square is thought to be the only place in the United States where streets named for the two men intersect each other.
The intersection is also something of a crossroads, McCabe said, of the city’s diverse history, sitting between traditionally black, Latino and white neighborhoods. MLK Drive runs west through historically black Dunbar neighborhood and LBJ runs south through predominately Latino areas. MLK Drive is home to the Calaboose African American History Museum and LBJ Drive is home to the Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos,
In June 2010, the San Marcos Arts Commission awarded a $100,000 grant to the Crossroads committee to pay for commissioning the sculpture; the group began soliciting artists’ design proposals early last year. Hussey’s design was chosen from 54 submittals, beating out two other finalists, CoLAB Studios of Tempe, Ariz. and Joseph O’Connel and Blessing Hancock of Tuscon, Ariz.
Presented the winning entry during their regular meeting last week, city council members said they liked the sculpture renderings, clearing the way for city staff to negotiate a contract with Hussey.
In addition to the $100,000 arts commission grant, which was funded in a previous budget, the city will need to appropriate $275,000 in the upcoming budget year’s Capital Improvement Program to bury electric lines at the intersection and relocate a water line that supplies fire hydrants.