Controversial 'Drum Major' paraphrase removed from MLK memorial
August 1st, 2013
04:24 PM ET
9 months ago

Controversial 'Drum Major' paraphrase removed from MLK memorial

(CNN) – The controversial written passage on the side of the National Mall's Martin Luther King Jr. memorial has been removed, the sculptor said Thursday.

Chinese artist Master Lei Yixin told reporters at a press event in front of the memorial that the inscription had been removed by deepening the grooves that give the side of the memorial texture.

"All is going well," Lei said through his son, who served as an interpreter.

The King Memorial had originally included a paraphrase from the famed Civil Rights leader's "Drum Major" speech that read: "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness."

In 2011, famed poet Maya Angelou, a friend of King, pointed out that the statue took the original quote out of context in a manner that she said made King look arrogant.

Two months before he was assassinated in 1968, King really said: "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."

Work is still ongoing on the statue. The National Parks Service hopes to have the memorial ready for events commemorating the 50th anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream Speech" which will kick off at the end of August.

The work is expected to cost between $700,000 and $800,000, according to Bob Vogel, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks. The money is coming not from taxpayer dollars but from a fund established for repairs.

In response to criticisms of the paraphrase, Vogel told reporters that he couldn't think of a single memorial that hasn't experienced some kind of controversy over its design.

"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."

The memorial had 5.2 million visitors last year.

Lei also answered a question about what it was like as a Chinese citizen working on the statue of an American icon. Through his translator, Lei said that he knew of King even in China.

"He feels that it was an honor to work with the MLK foundation to make the memorial. He has put a lot of effort and heart into the statute," his son translated.

"He thinks that Americans would not regret to pick him as the sculptor."


Filed under: Martin Luther King
soundoff (186 Responses)
  1. M

    @Chris
    The inscription was removed because it was placed there without the context provided by the surrounding words, and those words completely change its meaning. You understand the meaning of context, right? Sort of like when a certain political blogger edited a video to completely change what a USDA official said in a bid to ruin her reputation.

    August 1, 2013 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  2. Heather C.

    Dude. It's the National Park Service, not the National Parks Service. Not cool.

    August 1, 2013 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  3. volsocal

    I see their point. No problem, here. Moving on.

    August 1, 2013 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  4. r c

    Glad to see that I am not the only one who does not think the monument looks like King whatsoever.

    August 1, 2013 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  5. Dyan S

    @mickeygib That's gonna be one giant bobblehead.

    August 1, 2013 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  6. Anonymous

    "The work is expected to cost between $700,000 and $800,000, according to Bob Vogel, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks."
    Is that money just to remove a few lines of text? If so, I think the accounts need to be audited. Why is this so expensive?

    August 1, 2013 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  7. John

    The goose-stepping extreme right are out in force on this one.

    August 1, 2013 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  8. eugenewilliams895255531

    is it really going to cost close to $1 million to do this fix? seriously?

    August 1, 2013 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    So much cynicism...it's disheartening contrasted against the image of a leader that stood for positive change.

    August 1, 2013 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  10. Made in USA?

    Why was it made in China?

    Do we not have some wonderfully gifted American artists in this country, of any race who could have constructed this very very important memorial? Really I'm just baffled.

    August 1, 2013 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  11. ronjayaz

    The expression "slave wages" is an oxymoron. Slaves were never paid. We are in trouble as an educated nation.

    August 1, 2013 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  12. "HE was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness."

    should have wrote it that way.

    August 1, 2013 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  13. skarphace

    Usher73: CNN neglected to mention that the entire memorial was quarried and carved in China.

    Why would that matter? You know that the Statue of Liberty was made in France, right?

    August 1, 2013 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  14. Tim

    How ironic that Maya Angelou was on the design committee board that approved the original quote and now she is the main voice to have it changed. Why didn't you say something in the design phase? Oh yeah. You didn't go to any of the meetings. I wonder if she collected a paycheck for being on the board and not actually going to any of the meetings.

    August 1, 2013 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  15. skarphace

    Chris: Cutting it off the stone, thus rewriting history yet again to make a black man look better, doesn't change a thing. He said it, others can eat the words, but he said it.

    That is exactly the point. MLK did not say "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness." That was not a direct quote from him. The words are a paraphrase of what he said. Therefore, if the paraphrase does not convey what it was meant to convey, then it needs to be rewritten. How hard is that to understand?

    August 1, 2013 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  16. dude

    So many people blaming the "conservatives" commenting racism and dislike for the statue... That is strange because none of the comments I read said what political side they are affiliated with. One comment bashed bigots and then took a shot at "American Rednecks". Hypocrit much? As the article states, every memorial always has something wrong with it from people on every side. Some will say it doesn't do the man justice. Some will say it shouldn have been homemade in the US. Some will just whine for attention. I fail to see how this is a political thing at all. Everyone needs to just get over that barrier already.

    August 1, 2013 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  17. Mahina

    Wow. What a lack of peace seeking I see here. If you all care about this issue, the statue, the man or it's message so much, shouldn't you, at the very least, respect his philosophy of peaceful protestation in the way you word your arguments?! He was a man who inspired millions of people but he was still just a man with many flaws like all of us and his statue is one of many man-made things w flaws as well. Please, everyone, Maya Angelou included, stop being so sensitive. Lighten up. A lot of good can come out of flaws.

    August 1, 2013 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  18. Robert

    Regardless of it was out of context, it's a horrible quote. It's Martin Luther King. He said more moving things than the "drum major" comments.

    August 1, 2013 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  19. db

    Appeasement, that is all the memorial is so don't get all excited and blow a gasket.

    August 1, 2013 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  20. Brad

    I have a dream. That one day, my words would drive a wedge between people.

    August 1, 2013 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  21. Michael Carrillo

    I donated money for this memorial, and I'm proud that I did. Not every great man that has ever lived in this country has been Caucasian, so give it a rest haters.

    August 1, 2013 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  22. whathates

    thes are some pretty sad comments indeed

    August 1, 2013 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  23. robjh1

    "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." Powerful!

    August 1, 2013 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  24. Jayvee2

    Where are the riots on Oakland over this? Their demigod is being dissed.

    August 1, 2013 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  25. IDontKnow

    If you want edited text, no better experts than the Chinese. Thousands of years of censorship deliver expertise in that area.

    August 1, 2013 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
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