Controversial 'Drum Major' Inscription Removed From Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial In Washington, D.C.

on August 01 2013 7:33 PM
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A jet flies behind the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in West Potomac Park in Washington July 22, 2013. REUTERS

A controversial inscription has been removed from the side of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin confirmed the news at a press conference earlier today.

“Right now, as we see, the statue looks really good,” Yixin said via his son, who acted as an interpreter for his father. “He thinks Americans would not regret picking him as the sculptor.”

According to CNN, the controversy stems from a passage on the side of the memorial which read, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”

Critics of the inscription, such as poet Maya Angelou, have charged that it incorrectly paraphrased the late civil rights leader.

“The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit,” Angelou told the Washington Post. “He was anything but that. He was far too profound a man for that four-letter word to apply.”

The actual quote -- taken from a speech Martin Luther King Jr. delivered just two months before his assassination in 1968 -- is: "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."

“The ‘if’ clause that is left out is salient,” Angelou added. “Leaving it out changes the meaning completely.”

Robert Vogel -- superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks in D.C. -- said work on the memorial will cost between $700,000 and $800,000. Changes on the memorial will be paid for by a special fund established for repairs.

The memorial was visited by more than 5.2 million people last year, according to the National Park Service.

“The response to the memorial has been overwhelmingly positive,” Vogel said. “People have come and wept at the base of the statue. I think people have seen it as a great work of art and a great addition to the National Mall.”

It is hoped that the memorial will be ready in time to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the end of August, according to CNN.

“We found a really great solution that everyone thinks will work and the memorial will be beautiful," Vogel said. "We can get past the controversy and focus on the whole meaning behind this incredible memorial."

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