Martin Luther King Jr. 'Drum Major' Quote to Be Replaced on Monument by 2013

A paraphrased quote on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial will soon be replaced after complaints arose last year against the truncated inscription. Critics argued that the words shed an unfavorable light on the civil rights leader.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and the National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis announced on Friday plans to correct the abbreviated quote on the monument to more accurately reflect the meaning and intent of Dr. King's original statement.

Many critics including poet Maya Angelou argued that the current MLK inscription, which reads, "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness," was taken out of context and made King sound like an "arrogant twit."

The shortened quote was taken from a past sermon of King's – spoken at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church just months before he was assassinated in 1968 – where he criticized the "Drum Major Instinct," or a desire to "lead the parade," and gain attention, recognition and importance.

Though King encouraged his congregation to seek greatness, he hoped it would be through service and love, making it clear that when it came time for his own funeral, he would be remembered for a higher purpose, not just for his achievements.
"Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice," King recited. "Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all the other shallow things will not matter."

When King's monument was erected in Washington, only the words "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness" was added to the inscription in order to fit the space available, marring King's original intent.

After many voiced their anger over the paraphrased inscription, Salazar ordered that a correction be made, giving the Park Service a month to consult with the King family and report back with a plan.

Under the plan announced on Friday, the current paraphrased quote would be removed and replaced with the entire text of the exact quote as delivered by King.

"President Obama's dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was a proud moment for our country and a reminder of the continuing relevance of Dr. King's dream of dignity, respect and justice for all," said Secretary Salazar in a statement.

"With a monument so powerful and timeless, it is especially important that all aspects of its words, design and meaning stay true to Dr. King's life and legacy."

Expressing her gratitude, Bernice King, the youngest daughter of King, shared, "My Aunt Christine and I along with other family members want to thank Secretary Salazar and the National Park Service for their considerable efforts regarding the correction of the quote in the Monument in order as the Secretary put it 'to make sure we get it right.'"

"As promised, the Secretary and the Park Service involved the family and other interested parties and have accomplished just that with the proposed correction by the Secretary."

The National Park Service expects that portions of the granite stones that carry the existing quote now will be replaced. They are currently exploring their options to fund the correction, including philanthropic support.

Director Jarvis set a goal to complete the work in time for the celebration of Dr. King's birthday in January 2013.

"Under the carful stewardship of the National Park Service, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial will stand for all time," Jarvis said. "Visitors 100 years from now will be inspired by his own words, and know how Dr. King's leadership advanced the cause of civil rights for all Americans."

While much of the public is applauding the latest move, some opponents believe that changing the inscription will risk ruining the monument.

Harry Johnson, the president and CEO of the Martin Luther Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, said that the new plan will "threaten the design, structure and integrity" of the memorial and expressed his disappointment that the King family and Secretary made a "unilateral decision" to change it, according to The Associated Press.

The architect for the foundation also agreed saying that the new granite added would be a noticeably different color.

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