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Report: Quote on MLK memorial will be changed

- Associated Press - Friday, January 13, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — A quote carved in stone on the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington will be changed after the inscription was criticized for not accurately reflecting the civil rights leader's words.

The Washington Post first reported on Friday the decision to change the inscription, which currently reads: "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness." The phrase is chiseled into one side of a massive block of granite that includes King's likeness emerging from the stone. It became a point of controversy after the memorial opened in August.

The phrase is modified from a sermon known as the "Drum Major Instinct," in which the 39-year-old King explained to his Atlanta congregation how he would like to be remembered at his funeral. He made the February 1968 speech just two months before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.

In the speech, King's words seem more modest than the paraphrased inscription: "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."

Poet Maya Angelou previously said the truncated version made King sound like "an arrogant twit" because it was out of context.

A spokesman for the U.S Department of the Interior confirmed on Friday that Secretary Ken Salazar decided to have the quote changed. It's not clear how much any change might cost or how it would be paid for.

Salazar gave the National Park Service, which the U.S Department of the Interior oversees, a month to consult with the King Memorial Foundation, which led the effort to build the memorial, as well as family members and other interested parties. The committee is supposed to come up with a more accurate alternative to the quote.

Harry Johnson, president of the King Memorial Foundation, said it wasn't yet clear what the alternatives might be. The group would look at all the ways a change could be made, he said.

The executive architect of the $120 million project, Ed Jackson Jr., had previously said he stood by the paraphrased line and that there was no way it could be altered. King's words were shortened for space reasons, Jackson said. He did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment Friday evening.

Angelou was named among the memorial's Council of Historians tasked with selecting the inscriptions for the memorial. But she did not attend meetings about the inscriptions, Jackson said. Project planners also explained the shortened quote to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which ultimately approved the memorial's design.

At least one other recent memorial has undergone changes after being opened to the public. After the Franklin D. Roosevelt memorial opened in 1997, advocates for the disabled campaigned to have a statue added portraying Roosevelt in his wheelchair. Originally, only one statue in the memorial alluded to the fact Roosevelt lost the use of his legs after contracting polio as an adult. That statue portrayed him seated with small wheels on the back of his chair.

In 2001, a bronze sculpture depicting Roosevelt in his self-designed wheelchair was added to the entrance of the memorial. Disability groups raised $1.65 million for the addition.

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Associated Press writer Brett Zongker contributed to this report.

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