Controversial inscription on MLK Jr. monument to be changed

Posted at 12:10 PM, Aug 29, 2012
and last updated 2012-08-29 12:10:19-04

WASHINGTON (WTVR)–A controversial quote inscribed in the granite of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall will be corrected after the tourist season.

Harry Johnson told the Associate Press on Tuesday that the memorial’s sculoptor, Lei Yixin, will return in September or October to change the words.

The memorial site features a commanding 30-foot statue of King, arms folded across his chest, emerging from a “Stone of Hope.”

The quote in question is inscribed on one side of the stone. The abbreviated and paraphrased version of the line sparked controversy last summer when acclaimed poet and author Maya Angelou said it made the civil rights leader appear to be arrogant.

The line reads: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”

In fact, King’s original words, from a 1968 sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, were: “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.”

Angelou said that leaving out the “if” changes the meaning. In an interview in October 2011, Martin Luther King III said the quote would be changed, but did not elaborate.

“It’s going to be corrected. First of all is what we understand. But I don’t know exactly how it got to that place. That was not — number one, that was not what dad said,” he told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield. “The issue is addressed, because it’s going to be corrected.”

The MLK memorial sits on the Tidal Basin between the Lincoln Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. The “drum major” quote was not the only point of contention when it came to the monument, which was more than two decades in the making.

Some criticized the foundation for choosing a Chinese sculptor, Lei Yixin, to carve the statue. Others believe it does not accurately depict the civil rights icon.