Controversial 'Drum Major' paraphrase removed from MLK memorial
August 1st, 2013
04:24 PM ET
1 year 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. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    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
    -------------------------------------------------
    When I visited it this past April there were school buses overflowing from the parking lot. It took us 1/2 hour to get close enough to it to shoot pictures from afar.

    August 2, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  2. foodlifefitnessart

    So I'm confused; are they going to replace it with the original passage?

    August 2, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  3. Nextperson

    I am not that fond of partially completed sculptures. This looks like he got tired of sculpting after doing about 1/3 to 1/2 of the work. I don't get why those who saw the projected work approved of it when so much is incomplete. The quality just doesn't look very good. And that is before considering any quotations.

    August 2, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  4. Zenger Folkman

    $700 grand to fix it?? Why not just go over to Home Depot, buy some vinyl concrete patch, slather it on, smooth it off and have someone re-etch the words after it dries?

    August 2, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  5. Bill Carson

    Who cares what they do?

    August 2, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  6. Rudy NYC

    Nextperson wrote:

    I am not that fond of partially completed sculptures. This looks like he got tired of sculpting after doing about 1/3 to 1/2 of the work. I don't get why those who saw the projected work approved of it when so much is incomplete. The quality just doesn't look very good. And that is before considering any quotations.
    -----------
    Subliminal message. Dr. King's work is unfinished.

    August 2, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  7. Clevelandindian

    I just can't imagine Dr. King being pleased with spending close to 1 million to erase some trivial controversey. Exactly how many worthy kids could use that money for their college education. We might want to think where the money is really needed.

    August 2, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  8. Dan Griffing

    This sounds like political correctness. If the words of Saint MLK don't paint him in a completely favorable light then erase the words! 1984!

    August 2, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  9. theemptyone1

    Made in China and MLK does look slightly like Mao.

    August 2, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  10. Steve

    First off – I am white. I do not like the statue – it does not do Martin Luther King justice. He looks more oriental than black. And with that being said – I am not prejudiced against Orientials or Blacks. I grew up in the era of Dr. King and I know what he looked like. If I did not know that this "memorial" was of Dr. King, chances are very good that I would not recognized it as his image. I think the biggest compliment to Dr. King would have been if a team of Black and White sculpters would have worked on this...TOGETHER. That would have been evidence that his dream is at least partially being realized. But then again, it was a government decision – a political decision no doubt.

    August 2, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  11. lexgreen

    Why erase the words ?? Just use the correct, complete, quote.

    August 2, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  12. Rudy NYC

    theemptyone1

    Made in China and MLK does look slightly like Mao.
    ------------
    Bingo. That's what's wrong with it.

    August 2, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  13. Tom in ATL

    "The money is coming not from taxpayer dollars but from a fund established for repairs."
    Excuse me, I'm dying to know where that "fund" got its funds!!! Willing to bet it's from the taxpayers!!! So stop with your comments meant to calm the public over ridiculous amounts of spending and tell the truth.

    August 2, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  14. jacob

    i still cant believe Dr. King wouldve allowed ppl to spend millions of dollars on a statue most Americans will never see, when they couldve spend that money sending kids to college to make a positive impact on America..

    August 2, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  15. Ward Cleaver

    To complain like that is someone with too much time on their hands and we don't know how to deal with dolts. We apologize and give in.

    August 2, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  16. George

    I don't think it looks like Dr. King. It is a bad likeness of him.

    August 2, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  17. Dave Stuart

    Wow awesome, I can't think of a better use of $700k+.. no really I can't !!

    August 2, 2013 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  18. Phillip

    I am not that fond of partially completed sculptures. This looks like he got tired of sculpting after doing about 1/3 to 1/2 of the work. I don't get why those who saw the projected work approved of it when so much is incomplete. The quality just doesn't look very good. And that is before considering any quotations.
    --–
    Next person: You're looking at the whole sculpture too closely. Please don't ever become an art critic; it takes a deep sense of vision to see the whole message. For instance, the actual sculptured rock piece of MLK is carved out of a much larger rock, symbolizing MLK's message and vision came from a nation divided. And, as someone else pointed out, the work is unfinished, as is MLK's.

    August 2, 2013 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  19. Marion

    Nextperson wrote: Nextperson
    "I am not that fond of partially completed sculptures. This looks like he got tired of sculpting after doing about 1/3 to 1/2 of the work. I don't get why those who saw the projected work approved of it when so much is incomplete. The quality just doesn't look very good. And that is before considering any quotations."

    What's not complete as per your expertise on sculptures? Will you not approve of it until you see a 360 degree view of his whole body? That is the design of the sculpture......the rest of it is to sculpt in the passage and other text. If you don't like it, that's one thing.....but it IS complete.

    August 2, 2013 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  20. Brad

    He was more like a cheerleader than a drum major anyway

    August 2, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  21. SpecialShortBus

    MLK was a great human being who inspired and encouraged so many people white and black. He deserves a memorial because he is a huge part of civil rights history in America and making our country a better place for all people. As far as the sculptor being Chinese; This type of sculpting is very specialized and only a handful of people in the world can work in this medium. Most of the American artists that worked in this medium have died and the art has not been taken up by very many people since. It would take the level of talent that Mt. Rushmore and Stone Mountain took to carve. All of those artists are now dead. The Crazy Horse Monument has taken over 50 years to get where it is now and the original sculptor died many years ago. His family has continued his work and they have only completed the face so far. People here comment with criticism on a complex and meticulous art form that they do not understand. This Chinese artist is very talented at a very complex and hard sculpting method that only a handful of living people can perform. You hire who is qualified for the job and this guy just happens to be Chinese. If you think it is so easy then go buy some rock chisels, a hammer, a blowtorch, and start making some sculptures yourself. You won't last one day before you start crying how impossible it is. All you haters are just sad pathetic whiners. Stop all your crying. You sound like a bunch of babies. Go make a difference in the world! MLK did, now let's see what you can do!

    August 2, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  22. Shelly

    I think $700,000 would build a wonderful U.S. World War I memorial because there isn't one!

    August 2, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  23. Meep

    black people hate the message of MLK

    August 2, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  24. anon

    I like Maya Angelou and absolutely LOVE her poetry, but there are times when the woman REALLY needs to keep her mouth shut. Her nit picky little comment cost this country almost a million dollars, and probably even more once the financial mismanagement committee known as the U.S govt. gets finished tallying up the cost of word removal/replacement.

    August 2, 2013 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  25. a great American

    His leadership was amazing.

    August 2, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
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