- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Department of the Interior announced Tuesday that it will remove the controversial “drum major” quote from the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial that paraphrased the late civil rights leader’s words, scrapping an initial plan to replace it with the complete quote.

Lei Yixin, the Chinese sculptor who crafted the memorial by the Tidal Basin, told officials they should remove the quote by carving striations into the granite to match existing scratch 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. He said it is the best way to ensure the sculpture’s structural integrity.

The work is scheduled to begin in February or March — after the King holiday and presidential inauguration — and be finished by spring, officials said. Although the memorial will remain open, visitors should expect limited visibility of the sculpture due to scaffolding.

The hands-on work will be performed by Mr. Lei and his crew, although a bid will go out as soon as next week for a contractor to handle logistics and the scaffolding, National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson said. She said the work will cost $700,000 to $900,000 out of a maintenance fee consisting of private donations culled by the memorial’s foundation that must be set aside for commemorative works on the Mall.

Stone carver Nicholas Benson, who inscribed the quote, said Tuesday that he agreed with Mr. Lei that the announced approach is the best way to address the situation without disturbing the memorial’s general aesthetic.

“It’s too bad it has to go down that way, but these things happen,” Mr. Benson said.

For months, some observers said the truncated version of the quote — “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness” — was a disservice to King, whose memorial was dedicated by President Obama on Oct. 16, 2011.

The edited version made King sound arrogant, poet Maya Angelou said. The full version in quotes should read: “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.”

Mr. Benson said the memorial’s organizing foundation 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.”

As for the quote itself, Mr. Benson said he recognized both sides of the argument, but a comparison of the truncated version to the actual quote is not so far out of context that it makes sense “to get upset.”

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Tuesday that the Department of the Interior’s move to remove the quote is “appropriate.”

“It probably should have been done sooner, but it’s done and I’m glad,” he said of the decision.

The memorial has been open to the public since August 2011, welcoming visitors to recognize King in a peaceful setting of sculptures and quotations along two walls that encompass the site.

But after an uproar over the quote made headlines, Interior Secretary Kenneth L. Salazar said in February that he had met with members of the King family and decided to replace the text with the full quote. The full quote was approved by the Fine Arts Commission during the design review process, so the changes did not need further review, officials said.

In October, the Park Service said it had reached out to the master sculptor to determine his availability — a challenging task because he is based in China — and formulate a plan to correct the quote.

The Park Service had targeted the King holiday in mid-January as its deadline to complete the work, but the exact plans remained unclear until the announcement Tuesday. Now, the self-imposed deadline will not be met.

Ms. Johnson said the pending holiday put pressure on parties involved in the decision to reach a consensus, so the public would know the plans to deal with the issue.

Officials said the department’s decision to drop the quote altogether was made in consultation with the Park Service, the foundation that raised funds for the memorial and the King family.

“While our family would have of course preferred to have the entire ‘drum major’ quote used, we fully endorse and support the secretary’s proposal,” King’s sister, Christine King Farris, said.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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