Crews to begin removal of controversial quote from King memorial

Scaffolding and equipment trailers will obstruct the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial beginning Monday as work begins to remove the controversial “drum major” inscription from the side of the monument.

The project is expected to last for three to four weeks but wrap up well ahead of events marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on Aug. 28, National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson said.

Park Service officials initially hoped to complete work on the monument earlier this year, prior to the start of the summer tourist season, but scheduling issues pushed the timeline back.

Ms. Johnson said that coordination of six sculptors’ schedules as well as that of contractors proved to be the biggest hurdle.

The work is being done to remove King’s paraphrased quote “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness” from the side of the monument. Critics, including poet Maya Angelou, called for the removal of the inscription after the monument opened in 2011 saying the paraphrased quotation distorted the meaning of King’s original quote and made him sound arrogant.

The full version of King’s 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.”

Lei Yixin, the Chinese sculptor who crafted the memorial by the Tidal Basin, recommended the controversial quote be removed rather than replaced in order to ensure the memorial’s structural integrity.

Mr. Lei, who is expected to arrive in the District the week of July 29, will remove the quote by carving a series of ridges and linear marks atop the quotation. The “striations” are meant to match existing marks that represent the tearing of the “Stone of Hope” from the “Mountain of Despair,” a pair of prominent features that allow visitors to walk through a partition in the “mountain” to the large sculpture of the civil rights icon.

The memorial will remain open through the duration of the work, although access to some areas of the memorial will be affected.

“There are going to be times and places that will be nonaccessible,” Ms. Johnson said.

She added that the removal of the quote is expected to cost around $700,000 and will be paid for through a maintenance fund consisting of private donations culled by the memorial’s foundation that must be set aside for commemorative works on the Mall. The full price tag of the memorial was $120 million.

The memorial’s organizing foundation, which raised the money to pay for the monument’s construction, chose the truncated quote so it would be in sync with the size of the two-line quote on the other side of the sculpture, which reads, “Out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope.”

A representative from the organization did not return a phone message seeking comment.

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