Controversial Inscription on Martin Luther King Memorial to be Removed

Wednesday, 12 Dec 2012 12:23 PM

By Michael Mullins

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An inscription paraphrasing a Martin Luther King quote will be removed entirely from the civil rights leader’s memorial to put an end to criticism that the wording makes him appear conceited, or as one Washington Post writer bluntly put it, “an arrogant jerk.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced on Tuesday the decision to delete the inscription which reads: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”

The statement paraphrased a remark made by King in his famous “Drum Major” speech delivered two months before he was assassinated by James Earl Ray on April 4, 1968.

In speaking about his own eulogy, King’s actual quote 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.”

The controversy began late last summer, when critics charged the inscription didn’t accurately reflect King’s humility.

Rachel Manteuffel was the Washington Post writer who argued the quote made King look like “an arrogant jerk.”

“This quote is awfully self-aggrandizing for a man who so often symbolized the strength in humility,” Manteuffel wrote in an opinion piece published Aug. 25, 2001. “The quote carved into the memorial on the Mall is not what Martin Luther King Jr. said. This is the equivalent of a Hollywood publicist pulling four words out of context from a newspaper review to make a bad film seem good. Except in this case, it’s the reverse.”

The decision to remove the statement was apparently welcomed by Bernice A. King, King's youngest daughter and CEO of the King Center in Atlanta.

“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,” she said, according to an Interior Department statement .

To avoid making the deletion seem like the inscription is simply scratched out, the monument’s base will be cut into deeper, according to the project’s executive architect, Ed Jackson Jr.

The change, which will be completed by the monument’s original sculpture, Chinese master sculptor Lei Yixin, is scheduled for after President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January and will cost between $700,000 and $900,000. The expense will be paid by a memorial foundation fund given to the National Park Service.

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