Manual High School's Missing MLK Bust Found — at Home of Its Creator

A 1970 photo depicts Manual High principal Jim Ward, assistant principal Walter Nordby and teacher Alfred Prud'homme with the school's MLK bust.
A 1970 photo depicts Manual High principal Jim Ward, assistant principal Walter Nordby and teacher Alfred Prud'homme with the school's MLK bust.
Denver Public Library

Update, June 9: The statute of Martin Luther King Jr. that was reported missing from Manual High School has been located at the home of its creator, Ron Kessinger. According to school historian Jim McNally, Kessinger apparently came across the bronze, no longer prominently displayed at the school's foyer, and removed it with the aim of repairing it. School officials weren't notified of its removal and reported the incident as a suspected theft. The bust is expected to be back at the school when the sculptor is done giving it a tune-up. See our previous coverage below.

Original post, May 29: Denver's Manual High School has endured more than its share of shakeups and losses over the past few years, including a 2006 shutdown of the place, over the protests of angry students and parents, followed by a much-heralded but tumultuous reboot. Now comes a public appeal from the school's longtime historian to be on the lookout for the school's bronze bust of Martin Luther King Jr., which occupied a prominent place in the school's foyer for decades but was stolen earlier this year. 

A police report values the sculpture, created by Metropolitan State College art student Ron Kessinger, at around a thousand dollars. But Jim McNally calls it "priceless" and points out that it was acquired by the school 45 years ago, at a time when some students were pushing to have Manual renamed Martin Luther King Jr. High School. "We need to make every attempt to locate it," says McNally, class of '57, who stepped down as the school's official historian earlier this year, after serving in that post since 1985. "Unlike the computers stolen off the second floor earlier in the semester, this is too important to forget."

After occupying a pedestal in the school's foyer for decades, the bust was moved to a nearby display case in 2008. The police report says it appears to have vanished from that location four months ago, right around the time of the MLK holiday. McNally, who was the first to notice its absence and report it to authorities, says the sculpture went missing some time between late January and mid-February. 

McNally regards the theft as an affront to Manual's proud legacy as one of the first Denver schools to educate African-Americans, to graduate future Tuskegee Airmen such as John Mosley, and the first DPS school to offer a course in African-American history. He says he's expressed his concern about the theft to Mayor Michael Hancock (class of '87) as well as the administration at Manual, which now has its fourth principal in the past five years. 

Denver Police spokesman Sonny Jackson says anyone with information about the missing bust can call the DPD's non-emergency line, 720-913-2000, or remain anonymous by contacting Crime Stoppers at 720-913-STOP. 


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