The federal government, in response to criticism over a paraphrased quote engraved on the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial statue, agreed Friday to restore the quote to its original form.
‘Drum major’ quote truncates original intent
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis announced Friday that the truncated “drum major” quote on the memorial will be changed to more correctly represent the slain civil rights leader’s intention in his complete quotation. The decision was reached following a meeting on Feb. 6 with surviving members of King’s family regarding the memorial, which was recently dedicated at the National Mall.
The quote as it now stands, carved into the stone near the left shoulder of King’s statue, reads “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” The quote is paraphrased from a sermon he gave in 1968 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Shortly after the Oct. 16, 2011 dedication of the statue, renowned poet Maya Anjelou pointed out the discrepancy created by the exclusion of the word “if.” She said:
“The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit. … He was anything but that. He was far too profound a man for that four-letter word to apply.”
The complete quote
The announcement on Friday assured the public that the quote would be restored in its entirety. The entire passage from the sermon reads:
“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.”
Decision reached ahead of deadline
On Jan. 14 Salazar told the National Parks Service it had 30 days to explore its options on changing the quote. The final decision was reached and announced four days short of the deadline.
In his announcement today, Salazar said the change was necessary to maintain the dignity that Dr. King’s memory deserves:
“President Obama’s dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was a proud moment for our country and a reminder of the continuing relevance of Dr. King’s dream of dignity, respect and justice for all. With a monument so powerful and timeless, it is especially important that all aspects of its words, design and meaning stay true to Dr. King’s life and legacy.”
King’s youngest daughter Bernice King thanked Salazar following the announcement, saying she appreciated the effort from the federal government to “get it right.”
Funding options being discussed
The National Parks Service said the correction will likely involve cutting out that piece of the granite monument and replacing it. The agency is considering several options to fund the endeavor, including charitable contributions. Jarvis said he hopes to have the change facilitated before Dr. King’s next birthday on Jan. 13.
During the design review process, before the statue was commissioned, the Council of Historians of the Memorial Foundation and the U.S. Fine Arts Commission approved the entire quote’s inclusion. Therefore, no further review is required.
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