Poet and author Maya Angelou alleges that an abbreviated quote on the new Martin Luther King Jr. statue in Washington, D.C., makes him appear to have been an “arrogant twit,” according to The Washington Post
The inscription on the north face of the 30-foot statute reads, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” The original quote comes from a Feb. 4, 1968, speech in which King said, “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 Post said.
The entire quote was to be included, but a design change led to the paraphrase. “The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit,” the 83-year-old Angelou told the Post. “He was anything but that. He was far too profound a man for that four-letter word to apply. He had no arrogance at all. He had a humility that comes from deep inside. The ‘if’ clause that is left out is salient. Leaving it out changes the meaning completely.”
The shortened version “minimizes the man” and makes him “seem an egotist,” she told the Post and urged that the quote be changed.
This is the second controversy to arise over quotations on the new memorial. Author and journalist Jamie Stiehm has pointed out that King often used the quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” but it originated with Theodore Parker, an abolitionist and Unitarian minister, who died just before the Civil War.
Stiehm has written that King acknowledged the source of the quote, which appears on a curving wall of the King memorial.
The memorial, which was unveiled last week, was to have been dedicated Sunday. But the dedication was postponed until September or October out of fear that Hurricane Irene would endanger those attending.
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