A proposal to put a bronze statue of Brother Asaiah Bates at WKFL Park in downtown Homer has drawn some controversy. After the Homer City Council sent the plan back to committee at its last meeting, it appears the community conversation will continue.
At Monday night’s council meeting, the conversation centered on what Brother Asaiah – a man known in part for his modesty – would’ve wanted himself.
Ken Landfield was a friend of Brother Asaiah. Landfield acknowledged that a statue could serve as a reminder, especially to Homer newcomers, of Asaiah’s importance in Homer history, of what the man stood for and what he meant to the people of Homer. Landfield says he is not convinced, however, that Asaiah would've wanted such a statue.
"'Throw me in a paper sack, walk away and don't look back' is the sentiment that I recall," said Landfield.
Landfield suggested that another location, like perhaps the Homer Public Library, might be a more suitable location for the statue.
Michael Kennedy was also a friend of Asaiah’s. Kennedy agreed that Asaiah would likely not appreciate the statue and he also raised the possibility that a public statue of the man could raise an issue of “separation of church and state.”
Homer artist Leo Vait was commissioned by private citizens to build the bronze sculpture. Vait brought with him Monday night a photograph of Brother Asaiah that he said was taken in 1996 for the express purpose of one day becoming a public sculpture.
"He posed for me knowing it was going to go into a public setting," said Vait. "He's volunteering, knowing that his image was going to appear in public. I think the photo speaks for itself."
According to his biography, Bates was born in Pilot Mountain, North Carolina. He was a veteran of World War II who came to Homer with the “Barefooters” in the 1950s. Bates was a pacifist who strongly believed in Homer as a central point of creativity and artistic endeavor. He was known for writing frequent letters to the Homer News and for a time, he served on the Homer City Council. Bates passed away in 2000 at the age of 78.
After some debate, the council decided to postpone the issue while the Public Arts Committee has a chance to hold at least one public hearing. The council will likely take it up once again at its first meeting in March.