A controversial inscription on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall has been removed by its sculptor. The removal was launched after many people voiced concern about the inscription on the side of the towering figure which read, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” The inscription, however, is a paraphrase of comments King delivered at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1968, two months before he was killed.
King actually stated, “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.” Critics, including poet and author Maya Angelou, said the shortened quote made the civil rights icon sound arrogant. China native Lei Yixin, who was commissioned in 2007 to create the statue, announced on July 30 through an interpreter that he is working on the side of the sculpture where the inscription was carved, in preparation for a replacement quote.
Angelou said in an interview in 2011 shortly after the statue was publicly unveiled that omitting the word “if” in King’s comments made him “look like an arrogant twit.” King “was anything but that,” she said. “He was far too profound a man for that four-letter word to apply.”
Meanwhile, it’s costing the Memorial Foundation about $800,000 for the corrective work. Lei said he expects the work to be completed in time for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, slated for Aug. 24-28.
“The difficulty is the new striations — so they won’t damage the integrity of the statue itself,” Lei said, adding that the new carvings are unlikely to cause any cracks in the statue.
“It’s not a big problem because the striations are designed to appear on the sides,” he said. “If it has some cracks, we could deal with them.”
The celebration, which is being sponsored by several civil rights organizations, is expected to attract thousands of people from across the country, culminating with a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, which he delivered Aug. 28, 1963 on the Mall.