Controversy Over King Memorial Inscription Isn't the First


Kirk Savage, author of "Monument Wars: Washington, D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape," said that the memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, just across from the King Memorial, created its own bit of controversy for its inscriptions.

"With the FDR Memorial, which has a lot of his words on it ... something like 'I hate war' is one of the inscriptions on the memorial. That's from a speech that he gave in the 1930s before the outbreak of World War II, so there was criticism from some people that the inscriptions made him look politically correct ... made him look pacifist," Savage said.

There was also a dispute over whether to depict the disabled Roosevelt in a wheelchair. The statue, opened in 1997, shows Roosevelt seated with his cloak covering the chair.

Savage visited the King Memorial when it was opened last weekend. He said that he was jarred by the same quote that bothered Angelou.

"I did see that inscription, and I did scratch my head a little bit because something sounded wrong about it, it didn't sound like something he said," Savage said.

"The problem is they have presented it as if it is literally his words ... and part of the problem is that they have put his exact words elsewhere, verbatim from his speeches."

The memorial, situated on four acres, has an inscription wall full of 14 of King's quotes. Savage said that they fairly represent King, and he was even surprised that they included King's quote directly opposing the Vietnam War.

"A lot of the inscriptions had to do with peace and his work for peace and his thoughts about peace, and that was really striking because it is a part of the Mall that is dominated by war memorials," Savage said.

"If you're coming from the Vietnam War Memorial and come to the Martin Luther King Memorial, that's going to be really interesting now ... here's this great man, he was opposed to this war," Savage said.

Erika Doss, an American studies professor at the University of Notre Dame and the author of "Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America," also visited the King Memorial last weekend and said that the majority of King's quotes were not truncated.

"Memorials are memorials. They're not textbooks, and it would be pretty difficult for any memorial, including this one which has a lot of wall space, to include the finer points of Dr. King's words," said Doss.

Doss said that as she watched people reflecting on the quotes and snapping pictures, strangers began talking to one another.

"There was a real sense of civic or community interaction ... which is a good sign of how the public claim or buy into a memorial space. When they're taking pictures, they're saying, 'Yeah, this is significant to me, I want to put this on my personal website, I want to share with other people, I was here,'" Doss said.

"I think this is one of the most significant memorials to be dedicated on the National Mall. It's hugely significant in that this is a person of color, a significant person in our history who was not a president, who was not a military figure, who was instrumentally important in terms of who we are and how we behave as Americans today," Doss said.

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