Inscription on King memorial in Washington to be corrected
Critics were unhappy with 'drum major' quote abbreviation
Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day
A controversial quote inscribed in the granite of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall will be corrected, an official at the Interior Department confirmed to CNN.
News of the change to the so-called “drum major” line was first reported Friday afternoon in the Washington Post.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has given the National Park Service 30 days to consult with the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, members of the King family and others to decide on a more accurate version of the quote, the official said.
The quote holds a prominent place among more than a dozen King’s most notable lines at the site.
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, 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.”
Now the Interior Department is taking action.
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.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be observed across the country Monday.
Dozens of students from an elementary school in Washington took turns Friday reciting King’s “‘I Have A Dream” speech.
“We are humbled to be here today in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the enduring legacy of his vision for a nation united by respect, integrity and justice,” said Watkins Elementary School assistant principal Suriya Douglas Williams. “Our fifth-graders have studied and prepared diligently to share Dr. King’s message with you, a message which still resonates today, nearly five decades after he first delivered it.”
CNN’s Greg Clary contributed to this report.