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It is poignantly appropriate that the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial has stirred controversy. After all, so did King.

Controversy always erupts when a new way of thinking challenges an old one. King constantly raised that challenge.

So members of Alpha Phi Alpha, King's college fraternity, and the memorial foundation the fraternity initiated should not be surprised that controversy erupted over a monument to his legacy.

Among the objections in this case, the memorial on the National Mall was designed by a Chinese artist, carved by Chinese workers out of Chinese granite and shipped here and reconstructed by Chinese workers on the National Mall.

Why not an American artist, critics ask? With American rock? And why use white granite, some have noted, to portray a black man?

But the memorial's defenders argue that the Chinese granite will withstand the test of time better than most other granite closer to home.

And the artist, Lei Yixin, a 57-year-old master sculptor better known for his mammoth tributes to Chairman Mao, is one of the few people on the planet skilled at working with such hard rock.

And, as Ed Jackson Jr., executive architect of the King memorial project told the Washington Post's Courtland Milloy, white granite will show up better at night standing on the skyline between the Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington memorials.

After visiting the site before its grand opening was postponed by Hurricane Irene, I think the 30-foot-high statue of King is a fitting and awe-inspiring tribute -- even though the artist gave King a stern, crossed-arms stance and demeanor a bit too much of a worker's-paradise seriousness for my taste.

He emerges out of a giant "rock of despair" in the spirit of King's quote, "With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope." Yet, I wasn't quite sure of whether he was emerging or defying efforts to give a decent burial to his mission at a time when more work still needs to be done.

Curiously, as many have noted, the memorial's quotes from King sidestep direct mention of race. It even omits King's most famous quote: "I have a dream," although that can be found on the steps of the nearby Lincoln Memorial, where King famously delivered that speech in 1963.

Instead the quotes stick mainly with universal themes like peace, justice and the notion that there is only one race -- the human race.

But they include quotes mostly on universalist themes such as "our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective."

That looking-beyond-race approach also seems appropriate, since King's final years increasingly expanded from fighting racism to fighting poverty, a problem that transcends race.

Powerful memorials spark powerful responses, not all of them positive.

The World War II Memorial was criticized by some for being too old-fashioned. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was criticized by many of my fellow Vietnam-era veterans as too fashion-forward and weird. "A black gash of shame," some called it at its unveiling in 1982.

But by the time a more traditional tribute, "The Three Soldiers" was added to the site two years later, critics of the wall, designed by Maya Lin, were being overshadowed by a big surprise: The wall was becoming Washington's most-visited war memorial.

Fine memorials can be like fine wines. They get better with age. The real test of the King memorial, as with the others, is how well it looks to us in the future.