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A view of the MLK Jr memorial in DC (via flickr.com/perspective)

Happy Martin Luther King day! As we celebrate the life of the Civil Rights leader and passionate revolutionary, more controversy plagues the Martin Luther King memorial statue that was erected on the National Mall in Washington, DC this summer. The statue has been a hot point of contention since it went up. There were the complaints that the statue was made by a Chinese sculptor rather than an American artist, plus the biting irony that Dr. King would be forever memorialized of whitish stone.

Now the statue faces a make-over, but because of an entirely different issue. On Friday the Washington Post reported that the memorial’s inscription would be corrected after an uproar against a badly paraphrased quote on the statue’s side. The quote, which reads “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness” was appropriated from a sermon that Dr. King gave in 1968. King’s full quote from the speech below:

Yes, 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.

Rachel Manteuffel complained in the Washington Post back in August that the shortened version made Dr. King sound like an “arrogant jerk.” The paraphrased quote makes King sound way too self-righteous, especially for a man who practiced and preached humility.

King’s original words come at the end of a speech titled “The Drum Major Instinct,” in which the leader encouraged his audience to seek greatness, but through service and love rather than superficial or material success. King seems to say that he doesn’t wish to be remembered as a drum major, but simply as someone who lived a life of activism and social responsibility. The truncated quote conveys the exact opposite of King’s original intent.

According to the Washington Post article, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has given the memorial foundation and King’s family 30 days to agree on a new quote for the statue. Changing the quote is not that easy though. The words are chiseled into the granite three-feet thick so the centerpiece may have to be destroyed in order to fix it. The article makes no mention of how the design of the statue itself might be altered or if it will go up exactly as before. I reached out to both the Martin Luther King National Memorial Foundation and Salzaar’s office for comment, but received no response by the time of publication.

Screen shot of Google’s doodle to celebrate Martin Luther King Day

In other Martin Luther King, Jr. news, Google debut it’s MLK Day doodle and got the leader’s words right. Created by New Jersey-based artist Faith Ringgold, the “Dream” doodle shows images of Dr. King’s face intertwined in the Google logo with snippets from his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

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Liza Eliano

Liza Eliano is Hyperallergic’s editorial assistant by day, and bad TV fanatic by night. She recently graduated from Barnard College with a BA in art history and a newfound love for girl power. She was...

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