WASHINGTON — Starting this week, contractors will begin removing a controversial quote from the Martin Luther King Memorial, just in time for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
The inscription in question, which reads “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness,” was paraphrased from its original form when the statue was first unveiled to the public in 2011.
Originally, King was quoted as saying something much less succinct: “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.”
The shortened phrase did not go unnoticed, drawing heavy criticism from poet, Maya Angelou, who was quoted in the Washington Post as saying that the statue made King “look like an arrogant twit.”
“[Paraphrasing] makes him seem less than the humanitarian he was. . . . It makes him seem an egotist,” Angelou told the Washington Post.
In a press release, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar addressed the mistake and noted that instead of altering the quote further, “updated plans call for removing the quote by carving striations over the lettering to match the existing scratch marks on the sculpture.” The scratches are meant to represent the tearing of the “Stone of Hope” from the “Mountain of Despair.”
Scaffolding contractors began preparing for the renovation on Monday, and Sculptor Master Lei Yixin is expected to arrive the week of July 29 to start reworking the contended quote.
“The King Memorial has a special meaning to so many visitors to the National Mall,” National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said in a press release. “We want to make sure that the many thousands of people expected to visit on Dr. King’s birthday are able to see and experience this powerful tribute to Dr. King.”
The memorial will remain open to the public throughout the renovation.