Over the years, it has become one of the most well-known symbols at USF, and not just for African-Americans. Muslims, Haitians, Sami Al-Arian supporters and anti-war protesters are just some of the groups that have stood in the shadow of the Martin Luther King Jr. bust at MLK plaza to make their pleas for justice and equality.
But, since Feb. 7, the recognizable bronze figure, perpetually looking out across reflecting pools to the Chemistry building, has been gone. A victim of vandalism for the second time in five months, the bust was removed for extensive repairs and will be replaced when a suitable security system can be implemented.
The timing could not have been worse for the Black Student Union and other organizations. The bust was removed in the middle of Black Emphasis Month. Urvick St. Jean, president for BSU, said the bust brings a special importance to the part of campus dedicated to the slain civil rights activist.
“Without the monument, there is no purpose (to the MLK plaza),” St. Jean said. “It is visible to guests and students.”
While the bust and the pedestal must undergo extensive repairs before the statue is replaced in the plaza, university officials have made an effort to allow for public viewing of the symbol during Black Emphasis Month.
Vincent Ahern, coordinator for public art for the Institute of Research in Art, said the statue will be on display on campus at the Contemporary Art Museum at least through the end of February.
Ahern said, in addition to providing public viewing of the symbol during Black Emphasis Month, the temporary display will allow him time to gather estimates for future security and initiate repairs.
Ahern said repairs to the bust alone will cost about $5,000. He said an artist will have to do a lot of reworking of the bronze.
“It was scraped in several places, which does not sound like much,” Ahern said. “(But it) is pretty extensive work.”
Ahern said he is trying to make plans for security around the bust. After earlier vandalism, metal anchors were installed to attach the bust more securely to its cement base. However, after the most recent vandalism, those anchors have become less secure, and officials worried that the bust may be stolen. The bust was ordered removed.
Ahern said he is considering techniques to protect the bust. Cost, he said, will also be addressed.
“We’re actually doing some work with engineers at the university,” Ahern said.
Ahern said he tentatively would like to make some decisions on security by the end of the month.
“It’s a little bit hard to get it pinned down at this point,” Ahern said. “(We’ll act) in as timely a fashion as possible.”
Ahern said once there is additional security in place, the bust will be returned to its original location. And that is important for students, such as St. Jean, who see it as an important symbol.
“(Without it, MLK plaza) would not be the same,” St. Jean said.