Critics were unhappy with 'drum major' quote abbreviation, saying it made King sound arrogant
Plans originally called for King line to be corrected, but artist said removal was best
Removal will begin in February or March, after the King birthday celebrations
The controversial “drum major” inscription on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington will be removed rather than replaced under a plan announced Tuesday by federal officials.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a news release that the move followed consultation with a “range of stakeholders” who concurred with the decision.
Initially, plans called for the quote to be corrected. But the original sculptor, Lei Yixin, said removal was the best way to ensure the structural integrity of the memorial, the National Park Service said.
The site features a commanding 30-foot statue of King, arms folded across his chest, emerging from a “Stone of Hope.”
The quote in question – one of more than a dozen on the site – is inscribed on one side of the stone. The abbreviated and paraphrased version of the line sparked controversy in 2011 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.
The plan announced Tuesday will be submitted to the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission in January for their review, according to the Interior Department.
The news release included a comment from Bernice A. King, King’s youngest daughter and CEO of the King Center in Atlanta.
“We are grateful that Secretary Salazar’s office and the National Park Service has taken such care to maintain the spirit and appearance of such an important monument to our country’s history and my father’s memory,” she said.
The memorial will remain open to visitors during the work, but some of the statue will be covered at certain times. The project will begin in February or March, after the annual King birthday observance.