MICHIGAN ARTIST Tad McKillop works on a statue of Martin Luther King Jr., which he was commissioned to create for Ohio Northern University in Ada. The statue, to be dedicated next week, will commemorate the speech that King gave on the Ohio Northern campus on Jan. 11, 1968, three months before his assassination. (Photo courtesy of Ohio Northern University)


ADA — Ohio Northern University will dedicate a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. next week outside Taft Memorial Building, where the civil rights leader made one of his last college speeches before his assassination 50 years ago.

Creating a sculpture of King is an opportunity that’s both “great and terrifying,” said Tad McKillop, the Ann Arbor-based sculptor charged with the task.

“Everybody knows his face, from multiple views, so it makes it a really challenging project,” McKillop said.

The bronze statue, which will be pinned into a granite pedestal, features King speaking from behind a podium. It’s based on photographs of King speaking at ONU on Jan. 11, 1968.

“I’ve taken artistic license with it, though, to some degree,” McKillop said.

The statue is about 8 inches taller than King actually stood, and McKillop added “ONU” to the historically plain podium to indicate King visited.

McKillop said his goal was to create “a dignified image of him as a man of nonviolence,” conveyed through elements like King’s pose and facial expression.

The sculptor praised his friends for providing feedback as he worked. In particular, fellow sculptor Chris Untalan was “a good extra set of eyes throughout the process” and posed in a suit so McKillop could get a feel for details like wrinkles in the fabric. And his wife, Jenny McKillop, gathered photos of King that hung in the studio.

McKillop previously made a statue of ONU founder Henry Solomon Lehr for the school.

King spoke at just two more colleges — Kansas State University and Manchester College in Indiana — before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, according to ONU archivist Paul Logsdon.

The 700-pound statue will be dedicated at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. The event is free and open to the public.

The Rev. Bernard LaFayette Jr., a co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, will be the keynote speaker.

Christopher Manning, an associate professor of history and assistant provost on academic diversity at Loyola University Chicago, will speak about the national context of the time when King visited ONU.

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