by Frederick Cosby, Special to BlackAmericaWeb.com
For the second time in its young existence, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial is getting a do-over.
First, a rare northeastern hurricane forced the dedication of the first monument on the National Mall to honor a black American to be pushed back by more than five weeks. Then, last Friday, U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar ordered that a famous King quote incorrectly chiseled onto the granite on the left flank of the memorial be corrected.
Salazar said he instructed the National Park Service to consult with the King memorial foundation and the slain civil rights leader’s family and come back to him within 30 days with a plan to fix the butchered quote.
“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 said.
The embarrassing incorrect quote came from the February 1968 “Drum Major Instinct” sermon King delivered to his Atlanta congregation some two months before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
In the sermon, King spoke about how he wanted to be remembered. “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say 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.”
However, the memorial’s inscribers shortened and paraphrased King’s words, and the phrase currently reads “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.” The memorial’s incorrect quote made King conceited and boastful instead of humble and contemplative.
Poet Maya Angelou said the botched quote made King seem like an “arrogant twit.” She told The Washington Post that King “had a humility that comes from deep inside. The ‘if’ clause that is left out is salient.”
Paraphrasing the quote “makes him seem less than the humanitarian he was,” she said. “It makes him seem an egotist.” Martin Luther King III told CNN simply: “That was not what Dad said.”
Ed Jackson, Jr., the executive architect of the $120 million memorial, had said that King’s words were shortened for space reasons and that he stood by the paraphrased version of the quote.
In an email statement to Fox News, Jackson said that the cost of correcting the inscribed quote will be assessed, but added that none of the existing stone work will be removed.
“A few very carefully selected words will be added to the existing phrase; that will further amplify his statement about his role in America during the mid-20th Century as a leader, a social advocate, a voice of the people … for freedom, justice, hope and peace,” Jackson said.
However the change is done, it will be only the second time in recent his- tory that a memorial on Washington’s National Mall was altered after its opening to the public. Unhappy with the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial after it opened in 1997, advocates for the disabled aggressively lobbied to have a statute added with Roosevelt in his wheelchair.
A bronze sculpture of Roosevelt in his wheelchair was added to the entrance of the memorial in 2001. Disability groups raised $1.65 million for the added sculpture.