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Controversial quote to be removed from MLK memorial

December 11, 2012|By Danielle Ryan
  • A controversial paraphrase of a quotation will be removed from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington. President Obama, joined by his family and members of the King family, visited the memorial before its formal dedication in 2011.
A controversial paraphrase of a quotation will be removed from the Martin… (Mike Theiler / Getty Images )

WASHINGTON — A controversial inscription on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, which critics said distorted King’s words, will be fully removed after the presidential inauguration in January.

The quote in question is a paraphrase from King's “Drum Major” speech and reads: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” Some critics, including poet Maya Angelou, pointed out that those were not King’s exact words and that they had been taken out of context, making the civil rights leader sound arrogant.

Carol Johnson, spokeswoman for the National Park Service, said the paraphrase would not be replaced by the full quotation, as the King family preferred.

Instead, the plan agreed on by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the National Park Service and King's family will involve carving grooves over the original lettering to match the existing scratch marks in the sculpture.

Lei Yixin, the memorial's sculptor, suggested this method of removal in order to avoid damaging to the monument's structural integrity.

King’s original quote reads: “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

The memorial will remain open to visitors while the work takes place, but scaffolding and partial coverage of the monument will limit visibility. To ensure that visitors to the memorial in January for King’s birthday and King Day still get the best view possible, work is scheduled to begin in February and last through the spring of 2013.

“I am proud that all parties have come together on a resolution that will help ensure the structural integrity of this timeless and powerful monument to Dr. King’s life and legacy,” Salazar said in a statement.

The memorial, which opened in 2001, is located south of the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. A quotation from that speech appears on the King monument: “Out of the Mountain of Despair — a Stone of Hope.” The existing grooves and scratch marks on the sculpture represent the carving of the “Stone of Hope” from the “Mountain of Despair.” The corrective work will add more of these ridges to the stone.

King’s sister, Christine King Farris, said that the King family would have “of course preferred to have the entire ‘Drum Major’ quote used,” but added that the family fully supports the secretary’s proposal.


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