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

    MLK would vomit if he saw his memorial being carved by Chinese hacks for slave wages.

    August 1, 2013 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  2. chris

    Ok, that's a good start. Now if only they could get rid of that posture & expression on the statue as well...

    August 1, 2013 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  3. pup hoe

    its a grotesque slur on the landscape of the mall. we need to be more aware of the actual lives of these so called heroes before we start building these "monuments" to them.

    August 1, 2013 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  4. Terry Hull

    The 'memorial' completely redefines what 'memorial' means. This one, honestly, is as much insult as honor.

    August 1, 2013 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  5. anonymous

    leftists re-writing history so soon? shocking.

    August 1, 2013 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  6. You mad bro?

    Well we can proudly say that this made "in" China.

    August 1, 2013 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  7. Ted Wu, Los Angeles

    I feel strange that no one seems to notice, or comment, that the face of the sculpture does not look at all to the Reverend. I hope everyone would agree with me on that point. Too bad.

    August 1, 2013 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  8. Rkaneft@yahoo.Com

    Mlk needs to come back and help us with the mess were in.

    August 1, 2013 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  9. Sandalwood

    I'm still wondering why the statue was done in WHITE marble.

    August 1, 2013 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  10. DJ

    @ pup hoe: There are few perfect humans. We honor MLK for the heights to which he led us. We ignore his personal shortcomings just as we ignore Jefferson's. Do you advocate that we not honor Jefferson's positive contributions?

    August 1, 2013 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  11. 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.

    August 1, 2013 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  12. common sense

    It is tbe poets intent for the reader to interpret what he is saying in his own way. This lady just likes the attention and wants to feel that she is some how attached to the monument. hi, I'm the lady who had the mlk statue changed.

    August 1, 2013 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  13. GIUK

    "The destruction of words is a beautiful thing."

    August 1, 2013 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  14. mickeygib

    I am looking forward to seeing the Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson memorials.

    August 1, 2013 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  15. foxxstory

    Look at all the idiots conservatives with their hate........ they are not even sure where to aim their racial hate.. at the fact that it is a monument honoring a black man or that a chinese guy made it...... pretty hilarious and sad comments. at the same time........ 'murica

    yeah, you can proudly type your comments. about it made in china with your computer or smartphone that was also made in china....

    August 1, 2013 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  16. foxxstory

    At Sandalwood.. is not marble is granite.... and the granite was chosen for longetivity

    August 1, 2013 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  17. iceload9

    Looks like plenty of extra rock to keep changing it.

    August 1, 2013 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  18. Dan

    Thank God some of the bigots on here had no say in it. They are less American than either MLK or the artist.

    August 1, 2013 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  19. yo!

    That's what you get for hiring a non-English speaking guy to do an inscription in English with profound meaning and ramifications.

    August 1, 2013 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  20. Ol' Yeller

    Ah... in this day in age when almost every white person denies any racism on their part, they cannot hide it at all once they open their mouths or start posting. Though they still deny it as it drips from their every pore.
    We have such a long way to go.... and without the Dr. Kings of the world it would just that much further.

    August 1, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  21. Usher73

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

    August 1, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  22. Brandon

    Why not just use the original quote in the first place.. it sounds better. But more importantly, why is it even a big deal to begin with. I didn't know memorial statues could come off as arrogant.. Ms Angelou is making a mountain out of a molehill. Very impressive site though that commemorates a major milestone in US history

    August 1, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  23. MontanaTrace

    I think of him a leader for peaceful change. I wish he was alive today. Maybe the race baiters would quiet and yield to a better man.

    August 1, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  24. Rembrant

    (Most) posters: your hateful postings baffle me. Have you nothng nice to say about MLK, the memorial, the lady who wants it "right" the artist? This is a wonderful memorial to a man who fought for the rights of millions of Americans. He changed history and America for the better. Americans should consider themselves lucky to have people making the world a better place. Americans should consider themselves lucky to build memorials to great people.
    America will not be known for a bunch of toothless illiterate rednecks spewing hateful criticism at anything and everything they lay their eyes on.
    You could do so much more if you did something thought something positive for once. Shame on you. Shame on American Rednecks for all your hateful racism.

    August 1, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  25. Owl Creek Observer

    When I first saw this monstrosity, I said it looked like a cross between Jabba the Hut and Mao Tse Tung. My opinion has not changed.

    August 1, 2013 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
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