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. ed dugan

    She's a lousy poet, vastly over-rated, and should just go away.

    August 2, 2013 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  2. Elf Odin

    Gee, a picture of the monument with the words removed would be an excellent illustration for this story.

    Did CNN fire all of its photographers, too?

    August 2, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  3. Alan

    not impressed....looks like something you would see at an amusement park....looks fake....maybe they should not have had it made in China

    August 2, 2013 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  4. NorCalMojo

    Great intention, poor execution.

    August 2, 2013 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  5. Peepsite

    Who paid for this task?

    August 2, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  6. Brian

    Wait a minute... the CORRECTION costs $700,000 to $800,000?? Man, I'm in the wrong business.

    August 2, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  7. wolfpackbob

    Did not know that. For crying out loud, couldn't they have selected an American citizen as the sculptor? Maybe even a black sculptor? DUH? An artist from a Communist state? Whether it was under President Bush or President Obama adm, what goofball bureaucrat figured this one out!

    August 2, 2013 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  8. DC gal

    Elf Odin
    Gee, a picture of the monument with the words removed would be an excellent illustration for this story.

    Did CNN fire all of its photographers, too?

    -------
    It's not done yet – they just fenced off the monument a few days ago, and the work is scheduled to take several more weeks. There is a tarp up that prevents anyone from seeing what they are doing, so it wouldn't be much of a picture.

    Also, for all those blaming Maya Angelou, she was hardly the only person who disapproved of the mis-quote. The majority of people I know thought it was a mistake from the start, and lots of local organizations and newspapers also voiced opposition.

    August 2, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  9. Greg

    Look if you want history to be correct then you should not be complaining about Maya Angelou or disrespecting her. Doing so takes away credibility from your comments. She is well respected and a leader. Are you???

    I'm all for CORRECT phrasing and NOT for shortcuts. This is has proven to screw up history. It WILL matter down the road as people honor his legacy.

    August 2, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  10. wealthcoaches

    Alan – the Vietnam War Memorial is not very impressive in a picture either. After all, it's just a wall. Until you stand there. I'll reserve my comments on this Memorial until I experience it first hand.

    August 2, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  11. liberal hypocrite = redundancy

    everything always gets taken out of context. i blame the press.

    August 2, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  12. James PDX

    So it will cost 3/4 of a million dollars to sand out some words? We really need some "master" Chinese sculptor for this? I could hire a small group of "illegal immigrants" who'd happily do it for 10k.

    When I visited it in Sept 2011, I saw 4 people pass by in 15 minutes. That 5.2 million visitor number seems a bit exaggerated.

    To those saying it looks fake or bad, in person it actually looks very nice and is well designed except for the ridiculous idea to paraphrase Dr. King.

    August 2, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  13. James PDX

    Maybe they should hire Kruger Industrial Smoothing to do the job cheaper.

    August 2, 2013 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  14. MasterBlaster

    Is there anything this sorry government won't out source? I would hate to think of all the black folks in America, nobody can do sculptures? Having a communist sculptor making a statue of a man who gave his life to teach & preach about injustices is a ironic shame. Has our government lost its American Pride? Were's Jesse Jackson at when he can say/do something worth while? I think having a communist sculptor doing a nation monument of Dr. King is a congressional slap in the face to all African Americans.

    August 2, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  15. Rudy NYC

    I understand your point Rudy, however...
    Is this Chinese gentleman perhaps considered the best sculptor of granite in the world? Perhaps one of the top 5 or 10?
    I would bow to the committee choosing one of, if not the best, and if no African Americans or Americans period were on that list then they need to work on perfecting their craft but NOT on Dr. King's memorial.
    I'm just offering an alternate scenario here.
    In so far as the likeness I thought he did a great job, but I like many just did not like the stern expression on his face; although you must admit it does speak to his determination to bring out the change that he sought.
    ---------------------
    No, this sculptor is not regarded as being one of the top ten in the world. He's just another chinese sculptor.

    I don't like the face at all. The stern expression that you refer gives the face a narrower front profile than Dr. King had. The side profile, as seen above, is rather good. But, looking at it straight on, the face is a bit pinched and narrow looking. I am not sure how easy it is to see the front of the face from the ground, but various pictures that I've seen taken from angles dozens of feet of the ground show me a pinched face.

    August 2, 2013 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  16. Ian

    That's a big display. Surely there was room for the entire quote by MLK Jr somewhere. It's a great quote that directly contradicted both violent oppression by whites and violent insurrection by other blacks.

    August 2, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  17. Rudy NYC

    DM4O wrote:

    I understand your point Rudy, however...
    Is this Chinese gentleman perhaps considered the best sculptor of granite in the world? Perhaps one of the top 5 or 10?
    ------------------–
    Here's the complaint about the sculptor in a nutshell. Most of the money to pay for the MLK Memorial came from private donations. I'll leave it up to your imagination as to who the donors may have been. But, it was up to the National Park Service to decide on the location, manage the construction, and select a sculptor. The NPS chose the Chinese sculptor over the list of choices that the donors had provided. THAT was the gist of the donors' complaint. It had become a political choice.

    August 2, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  18. indianagal516

    peepsite...it says in the article who paid for the correction...go back and read it

    August 2, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  19. Dave

    Is there some reason the so called reporter who wrote this article didn't include what it's going to be changed to? Is it going to give the full original quote? Is it going to say something else? Is it not going to say anything?

    August 2, 2013 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  20. mb2010a

    In 2001, the foundation's efforts to build the memorial were stalled because Intellectual Properties Management Inc., an organization operated by King's family, wanted the foundation to pay licensing fees to use his name and likeness in marketing campaigns. The memorial's foundation, beset by delays and a languid pace of donations, stated that "the last thing it needs is to pay an onerous fee to the King family." Joseph Lowery, past president of the King-founded Southern Christian Leadership Conference stated in the The Washington Post, "If nobody's going to make money off of it, why should anyone get a fee?" Cambridge University historian David Garrow, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of King, said of King's family's behavior, "One would think any family would be so thrilled to have their forefather celebrated and memorialized in D.C. that it would never dawn on them to ask for a penny." He added that King would have been "absolutely scandalized by the profiteering behavior of his children." The family pledged that any money derived would go back to the King Center's charitable efforts.

    The foundation has paid various fees to the King family's Intellectual Properties Management Inc., including a management fee of $71,700 in 2003.] In 2009, the Associated Press revealed that the King family had negotiated an $800,000 licensing deal with the foundation for the use of King's words and image in fundraising materials for the memorial.

    August 2, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  21. chinina

    Instead of removing the quote, why don't you just add to it to give the full picture?

    August 2, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  22. Kelly Kent-Parcell

    Yes, that's all we need is a Communist Chinese person fixing something that never should have been there in the first place...a perfect example of outsourcing!

    August 2, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  23. robert

    this is ridiculous,all that wasted could have went to food stamps

    August 2, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  24. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Rudy NYC
    If your elaborations are correct then, yes, they f'd up Rudy if only for NOT honoring and choosing from the list submitted by those that paid to have the memorial built.
    As I said, having seen the memorial in person Rudy, I do believe it does him justice. If this gentleman is NOT a top-ranked sculptor of granite, he should be.
    IMHO.
    Thanks for the background.

    August 2, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  25. James PDX

    mb2010a wrote:

    The foundation has paid various fees to the King family's Intellectual Properties Management Inc., including a management fee of $71,700 in 2003.] In 2009, the Associated Press revealed that the King family had negotiated an $800,000 licensing deal with the foundation for the use of King's words and image in fundraising materials for the memorial.
    ____________________________________________________________
    Thanks for sharing. What a thing to tell a family you want to honor their family member and to have them tell you that they are going to charge you an exorbitant fee to do it. They should have canceled the memorial on the spot and the canceled MLK Day telling them we feared they might just charge every American worker a fee for taking that MLK Day off with pay. Next thing you know, the King family will start charging a licensing fee to anyone who wants to cheat on their wife. Greedy scum.

    August 2, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
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