Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says a key quote on the Martin
Luther King, Jr. Memorial must be changed. Poet Maya Angelou had
said it makes the civil rights leader sound 'like an arrogant twit.'
As America gets ready to take Monday off in honor of slain civil
rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., the creators of the new MLK
Monument in Washington will be thinking about how to fix what some
have called a monumental misquote on the granite edifice.
At issue is a prominent quote on the side of the memorial that
now states, "I was a drum major for justice, peace, and
righteousness." The problem, as MLK's son pointed out in a CNN
interview, is, "That's not what Dad said."
While the quote comes off as a boast, the actual line uttered by
MLK in a speech a month before his April 4, 1968, assassination in
Memphis had a different tone.
"If you want to say I was a drum major, say that I was a drum
major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace...," King
said, putting a less self-congratulatory spin on it.
The mistake not only makes King sound like "an arrogant twit," as
the poet Maya Angelou said last year, but undermines King's point in
the so-called "Drum-Major Instinct" sermon, which was about the
"folly" of wanting "to be great without doing any great, difficult
"As many have since pointed out, the 'if' and the 'you' entirely
change the meaning," writes the Washington Post's Rachel Manteuffel,
whose editorial on the mistake started the correction process
churning. "To King, being a self-aggrandizing drum major was not a
good thing; if you wanted to call him that, he said, at least say it
was in the service of good causes."
On Friday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose department
oversees the National Mall, gave the King Memorial Foundation 30
days to come up with an alternative excerpt for the north side of
the 30-foot-tall statue. "This is important because Dr. King and his
presence on the Mall is a forever presence for the United States of
America, and we have to make sure that we get it right," Salazar
told the Post.
Salazar also addressed the issue during a Monitor breakfast
before the Oct. 16, 2011 dedication of the sculpture. "I looked at
the quote," he said. "I looked at all the other quotes. It is a
wonderful memorial. But there are some issues that we will resolve
and we will work on them ..."
What appears to have happened is Lei Yixin, the Chinese master
sculptor commissioned to create the monument, and the monument's
American inscription carver, Nick Benson, had an aesthetic problem
they wanted to solve by shortening the quote. …