- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 21, 2012

The National Park Service is actively engaged in discussions with the Chinese sculptor who crafted the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in its effort to amend a controversial quote at the monument by mid-January, officials said.

Earlier this year, the Park Service said it would redo the “drum major” quote along the side of the King sculpture by the Tidal Basin so it accurately reflects his words, instead of paraphrasing the late civil rights leader.

The Park Service has reached out to master sculptor Lei Yixin to determine his availability — a challenging task because he is based in China —and to formulate a plan to correct the quote that is carved in granite, NPS spokeswoman Carol Johnson said Friday.

“We’re talking to Master Lei about the best way to accomplish this,” she said. “It depends on his schedule.”

For months, observers said the truncated version of the quote — “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness” — was a disservice the civil rights leader, whose memorial was dedicated by President Obama on Oct. 16 of last year.

The edited version made King sound arrogant, poet Maya Angelou said. The correct 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.”

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.

Time is of the essence, if the Park Service expects to meet its self-imposed deadline of the King holiday on Jan. 21.

“We would love to have it done by the next birthday,” Ms. Johnson said.

The memorial has been open to the public since last August, welcoming visitors to recognize King in a peaceful setting of granite sculptures and quotations along two walls that encompass the site. A brochure that was handed out by park rangers Friday does not mention the quote controversy but does say the memorial’s Stone of Hope “serves as a testament to Dr. King’s leadership in the civil rights movement as a ‘drum major’ for justice, peace, and righteousness.”

Harry E. Johnson Sr., president of the foundation that oversaw the memorial’s creation, told The Washington Times in August that officials did not want to disrupt the memorial during the busy summer tourist season, so work to correct the quote would begin in the fall. Officials from both the foundation and the Park Service have been unable to provide an exact timeline for the work as they negotiate with the sculptor.

Ms. Johnson said ongoing discussions include the foundation and members of the King family. She could not confirm whether stone carver Nicholas Benson, who did the original work, will be used once more to fashion the full quote. Officials did speak to Mr. Benson about the project earlier this year.

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

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide