Inscription To Be Removed From Washington, D.C.’s MLK Jr. Memorial Statue

Love for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on Washington D.C.’s National Mall was far from universal when it was unveiled in October 2011. Detractors asked why an American monument should be made of granite sourced from China and fashioned by Chinese artisans. Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page asked why white granite, for that matter, should be used to portray a black man. Still more onlookers asked why an eminently peaceful and compassionate leader who stood at a moderate 5 feet 7 inches should be memorialized as a giant, military stoic slightly resembling Mao Zedong. Most of all, people complained that a quote inscribed on the monument — now scheduled to be removed instead of replaced — made King sound uncharacteristically boastful.

The Associated Press reports that in February or March 2013, sculptor Lei Yixin will remove the part of his statue with the inscription that reads: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” The quotation’s removal is a likely source of relief from critics including Maya Angelou, who at the time of the sculpture’s unveiling decried its having been taken out of context from a speech King made two months before his assassination.

“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice,” the Reverend King originally said in 1968. “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.”

“I am proud that all parties have come together on a resolution that will help ensure the structural integrity of this timeless and powerful monument to Dr. King’s life and legacy,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told the AP. Bernice King, King’s youngest daughter, echoed Salazar’s sentiments in a joint statement released by the U.S. Interior Department, in which she praised Salazar’s “care to maintain the spirit and appearance of such an important monument to our country’s history and my father’s memory.”

— Reid Singer

(Photo via National Mall & Memorial Parks/Facebook.)