Work begins to fix misquote on Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Zongwei Li

The original sculptor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial will start removing a disputed quote from the statue this week.

Lei Yixin, a sculptor from the People’s Republic of China, plans to start work when he arrives Tuesday at West Potomac Park, where the memorial is located.

Lei will remove a quote inscribed beneath King that currently reads: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”

King’s original line was, “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.”

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar ordered the quote corrected after complaints that the statue’s version of the quote changed the meaning of what King originally said and made him sound arrogant.

The quote was shortened during construction, when Lei was asked to reverse the placement of two planned quotes after he had already carved out spaces for them. Figuring there wouldn’t be enough room for the entire quote, Ed Jackson, executive architect of the memorial, decided to shorten it.

Rather than trying to correct the quote, Lei proposed removing it entirely to preserve the structural integrity of the memorial.

The quote will be replaced by gouges to match the current scratch marks built into the statue that are intended to embody a line from King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, “out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

The quote was latest controversies surrounding the statue, including the choice of a Chinese sculptor and the selection of Chinese white granite for the memorial. (Check out more history and controversies surrounding the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.)

Authorities hope to have the work completed by the fiftieth anniversary of the March of Washington to be held at the end of the August.

Zongwei Li
Medill News Service