Disputed quote on MLK memorial to be removed
posted at 9:22 am on December 12, 2012 by Mary Katharine Ham
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar endorsed a plan Tuesday to remove a disputed inscription from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, rather than cut into the granite to replace it with a fuller quotation.
Salazar said he had reached an agreement with King’s family, the group that built the memorial and the National Park Service to remove a paraphrase from King’s “Drum Major” speech by carving grooves over the lettering to match existing marks in the sculpture. Memorial sculptor Lei Yixin recommended removing the inscription this way to avoid harming the monument’s structural integrity.
Critics including poet Maya Angelou complained after the memorial opened in 2011 that the paraphrased quotation took King’s words out of context, making him sound arrogant. The paraphrase reads: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”
The full quotation was taken from a 1968 sermon about two months before King was assassinated. It 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 MLK Memorial was made in China by a master sculptor living under a Communist regime whose other large-scale works include two sculptures of Mao Tse Tung. Blech. There was some controversy over that at the time, but not enough to change sculptors. The design for the memorial was at least conceived in California.