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. Miked

    The Chinese sculptor didn't choose these words. Perhaps it was from someone with the intention to make it seem MLK jr was arrogant like that. Removing that phrase, that was out of context to begin with, completes this work of art. Martin Luther King Jr was a great humanitarian that showed people the value of looking beyond the physical appearance of all human beings.

    August 1, 2013 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  2. Jeff

    Glad that they're making the change. It would be better if they used the entire quote. I went out of my way to see this memorial when I was with my family in DC in February. I hope this memorial helps keep Dr. King's legacy alive for generations to come.

    August 1, 2013 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  3. Albert Finney

    The REAL question everyone should be asking is how on earth does it cost nearly a million dollars to carves deeper groves into the side of a statue? I can find any number of contractors and/or professional sculptors who could do it for less than $10, 000

    August 1, 2013 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  4. fedUp2

    Can't it just say, Doin It For God, or sumthin like that?

    August 1, 2013 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  5. EuphoriCrest

    Thank you, Master Lei. You did a great job. I kook forward to visiting this inspiring memorial.

    August 1, 2013 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  6. jat3clove

    I visited our nation's capital last year and had occasion to view this and other monuments with my family. This one is anchored in a serene prayer garden with a backdrop that includes other quotes by Dr. King. It is an extraordinary, moving tribute to a great American. His undeniable faith in God, love of country and legacy of peace are worthy of honor and appropriately carved in granite alongside those who also sacrificed that we might move closer to a more perfect union.

    August 1, 2013 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  7. Miked

    The Chinese sculptor didn't choose these words. Removing that phrase, that was out of context to begin with, completes this work of art. Martin Luther King Jr was a great humanitarian that showed people the value of looking beyond the physical appearance of all human beings.

    August 1, 2013 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  8. korkea aika

    when I visit, I plan to bring flowers and a prayer for peace and human rights. MLK was a great American.

    August 1, 2013 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  9. timelord7202

    So America lacks the talent needed to carve rocks, now?

    That's the same excuse thrown at manufacturing, IT, accounting, and legal field jobs... or was in the past, before new excuses were made.

    This country has become so sad... we export everything offshore, marvel at trumped up "cost saving", and then write articles on how we're losing our status in the world. Not hard to see why, but the short-term profit will lead to real long-term problems. The economy can't differentiate national borders, at least when it profits someone. Yet we have nations and borders with vastly different cultural paradigms. The attempted merging, so far, has but one word: "uncoordinated". Or, perhaps, another: "hamfisted". Or, the end result: 'mess."

    August 1, 2013 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  10. Susie

    It looks like he did not bother to finish carving the statue.

    August 1, 2013 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  11. BeverlyNC

    I am so sick of the hate, racism, and disrespect shown by the ignorance of those who know nothing about our national history and make up their own version to suit their bigotry.
    Martin Luther King was a man of courage who stood up to right the wrong of racism and the degrading of all people. He so wisely said a man should be judged by the content of his character, not by the color of his skin. He spoke in terms of this being a part of being human, being a Christian as God never set apart any of us as more special than another, and with calls for peace when the politics of his time were as nasty and hateful and they become again now due to Republican bigotry and disrespect of our first mixed race President.
    I have seen the monument and found it inspiring and there were more white people there than black. MLK's message transcends race.
    These comments of hate and ignorance here show these people to have no character, no integrity, or humanity. You are the ones who disgrace our nation.

    August 1, 2013 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  12. Fuzzy Thinker

    "... The money is coming not from taxpayer dollars but from a fund established for ..." I like hearing about projects that are funded by voluntary contributions. I would like to see a PAC for fancy weapons and extra admirals/generals and Taxpayer pay for basic Defense.

    August 1, 2013 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  13. rehabmax

    A month ago I took a picture of the inscription as I knew it would be gone soon. I think too much was made of this. You could really take issue of the whole statue, so large, imposing, arms crossed. Not my favorite monument on the tidal basin.
    As i was leaving the monument two girls were approaching from the side who did not know about the monument and remarked, "look a climbing wall"

    August 1, 2013 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  14. MLK_Day_Hooray

    Oh,good.Now I can finally sleep at night knowing this has happened.

    August 1, 2013 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  15. sawtooth

    Blow it up, and use the gravel for road work

    August 1, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  16. Justice

    We even outsource our memorials these days? It's a sad day in America when even a statue of a great American can't even be created by an American.

    August 1, 2013 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |
  17. yup

    it looks like it's half done ... ran out of money midway into the project
    also should have consulted MLK family and black scholars for the quotation

    August 1, 2013 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  18. Chris

    IF Martin Luther King was alive today he would be a Republican. Liberal have history so screwed up the Republicans actually passed all the Civil Rights Laws look up Everett a Repub not LB who pushed for it. It was Reagan Who pushed for The MLK Holiday

    August 1, 2013 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  19. Susan

    It took tremendous arrogance to put words into Martin Luther King's mouth. Glad they're fixing it....

    August 1, 2013 11:12 pm at 11:12 pm |
  20. Chris

    The point is that context of any quote is absolutely necessary to understand its meaning. Whats wrong with all you haters anyway?

    August 1, 2013 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  21. "HE is a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness."

    if you believe he lives on as an example.

    August 1, 2013 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  22. Lu

    It's a shame it wasn't right the first time. Maybe if it had been something commemorating war, or republican ideology it would have been. The emphasis on hate and violence, far outweighs the desire for peace. just ask any weapons manufacture investor.

    August 1, 2013 11:27 pm at 11:27 pm |
  23. Anonymous

    @ Chris. No he didn't say exactly that. It was a paraphrase of something that he said. Paraphrases can be dangerous things.

    August 1, 2013 11:29 pm at 11:29 pm |
  24. ManWithThe1000PoundBrain

    @Chris. No, he didn't. Read the article.

    August 1, 2013 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
  25. Real American

    Shut up Maya Angalou... Let the caged bird sing. MLK was a Drum Major of Justice, Pease and Righteousness.

    August 1, 2013 11:42 pm at 11:42 pm |
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