MLK Memorial to Lose Controversial Quote

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(The Root) — The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial was officially dedicated in October 2011 with the words, "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness" engraved on the side of the memorial's centerpiece, the Stone of Hope.

Inspiring quote? Sure. Except that it wasn't quite accurate. The inscription was inspired by a sermon that King delivered two months before his death, in which he actually said, "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."   


Critics, including poet Maya Angelou, complained that the out-of-context excerpt misrepresented the civil rights leader's words, making him sound arrogant. Others argued that it was simply improper to include an incomplete quotation.

Today, more than a year later, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar provided an update on the path forward regarding the "drum major" quote. In short: They're going to scratch the words altogether. Striations will be carved over the lettering to match the existing scratch marks on the sculpture that represent the tearing of the Stone of Hope from the Mountain of Despair. It's a solution that Salazar says is satisfactory to all the stakeholders and protects the physical structure of the memorial.

"The memorial stands as a testament to Dr. King’s struggle for civil rights, and a dream of dignity, respect and justice for all," said Salazar. "I am proud that all parties have come together on a resolution that will help ensure the structural integrity of this timeless and powerful monument to Dr. King's life and legacy."

Bernice A. King, King's youngest daughter and CEO of the King Center in Atlanta, also endorsed the fix, saying, "We are grateful that Secretary Salazar's office and the National Park Service has taken such care to maintain the spirit and appearance of such an important monument to our country's history and my father's memory."


The work to remove the quote is slated to start in February or March 2013 and is expected to be finished by the spring of that year.

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