Martin Luther King Jr. was lauded for his humility, so it’s no surprise that a boastful quote paraphrased from one of his speeches and inscribed on the brand new Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C. came under fire. King supporters such as poet and author Maya Angelou and King’s son Martin Luther King III have complained that the quote is inaccurate and makes the slain civil rights leader sound arrogant. But just in time for his 83rd birthday, King will be honored with a correction. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar ordered a fix to the mangled quotation on Friday, calling for the memorial foundation’s input within 30 days for a better substitute. The offending quote currently inscribed in the 30-foot-tall granite monument is:
“I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”
It’s a far cry from – and far fewer words than – the original message, which King famously delivered in an Atlanta sermon two months before his 1968 assassination.
“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.”
It’s clear that the inscription was paraphrased from the original quotation, which designers said was too long to fit. But the dropped words were not the issue; the context was. The quotation was famously slammed shortly after the Memorial’s unveiling, first in a Washington Post editorial and later in comments from Maya Angelou, who served as an advisor for the memorial. “The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit,” Angelou told the Washington Post. “He was anything but that. He was far too profound a man for that four-letter word to apply.”
And after months of consideration, Salazar seems inclined to agree with Angelou. “I do not think it’s an accurate portrayal of what Dr. King was,” Salazar said in a statement.
Some things aren’t set in stone – even if they are set in stone.