By Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer
More than 100 years of social and political history is told vividly through the lives of the 39 figures represented in the monumental bronze sculpture whose final section was dedicated on May 31 in Oakland, Calif. Kaiser Permanente’s retiring CEO George Halvorson and incoming Chairman and CEO Bernard Tyson both spoke at the ceremony that unveiled the final installment of the public art. Kaiser Permanente is one of the donors that helped fund the piece located in the Henry J. Kaiser Memorial Park. Political leaders, civil rights activists shine The newest section, the “Visual Wall” with notes in Braille, features five heroes: writer Cincinnatus Hiner “Joaquin” Miller who called Oakland home; British Prime Minister Winston Churchill; South Africa’s Nelson Mandela; gay rights leader and San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk; Oakland humanitarian “Mother” Mary Ann Wright; and Fred Korematsu, champion of the rights of the West Coast Japanese interned during World War II. Leaders of the African-American Civil Rights Movement represented in artist Mario Chiodo’s massive installation include: activists and ministers Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ralph Abernathy; activist in her own right Coretta Scott King; poet and playwright Maya Angelou; Rosa Parks, who refused to give her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955; Black nationalist and leader Malcolm X; and Ruby Bridges, who at age 6 in 1960 was the first black student to attend an all-white elementary school in the South.
Abolitionists and farm worker advocates honored
Chiodo’s busts of historic figures responsible for moving along the campaign to abolish slavery include: Abraham Lincoln, freed slave and activist Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, who fought to free blacks from slavery and women from second-class citizenship in the 19th century. The quest for equal rights for the disabled is represented in the bronze image of Helen Keller; farm workers’ rights with Cesar Chavez; Native American rights with Chief Joseph, head of the Nez Perce Nation; and human rights for Latin Americans with the likeness of activist Rigoberta Menchu Tum. Leaders of the struggle for justice in the East are: the “Unknown Rebel of Tiananmen Square;” Mahatma Gandhi, the pacifist who led India to independence from British rule; Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist for human rights in the Middle East; Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and anti-war activist; and Mother Teresa, also a Nobel Peace Prize winner, who spent her life taking care of the poor in India.
Oakland notables in the mix
“Local Champions” are Royal Towns, one of Oakland’s first African-American firefighters; John Grubensky, an Oakland police officer who died while rescuing residents in the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire; an unknown Ohlone woman; Carmen Flores, a young Mexican artist; industrialist Henry J. Kaiser; writer Joaquin Miller; and the first black superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District, Marcus Foster, who was assassinated by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1973. Also in the display are: Josie de la Cruz, first woman recruiter for the United Farm Workers; Ina Coolbrith, the first librarian of the Oakland City Library and California’s first Poet Laureate; naturalist Ansel Hall; Oakland community leader Joyce Taylor; Korematsu; Mother Wright, founder of the Mother Mary Ann Wright Foundation, which feeds more than 450 people a day; and Oleta Kirk Abrams, one of the founders of Bay Area Women Against Rape in 1971. Visitors to this powerful tribute to these humanitarian giants can learn much about the historic trials and triumphs of the creation and preservation of global democracy.