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. Jarhead4life

    $700,000-$800,000 to 'fix' the statue??? Are you kidding me??? What a rip off!!!!

    August 1, 2013 11:43 pm at 11:43 pm |
  2. Telengard

    Will they also remove the "Made In China" stamp from the bottom of the statue?

    August 1, 2013 11:51 pm at 11:51 pm |
  3. Dave

    If that's what he said, and people revere him for his words, it seems to me a dishonr to him to change his words on the memorial to honr him. Maybe the sculptor should have chosen a better quote, but I think the fact that we have a national memorial to Dr. King's memory says enough. He was a brave man who challenged the rules of his time. What words would he want on his memorial? I doubt anything people today would agree on.

    August 2, 2013 12:20 am at 12:20 am |
  4. what's the problem?

    I don't see the problem with the paraphrasing they had on there. I don't think it made him sound arrogant at all. I don't see why so many people are complaining about this, either. I'm a white woman who has no problems with this memorial to Dr. King going up.

    August 2, 2013 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  5. Dave Seavy

    Of course the hate mongers are out in full force. These people must imagine themselves to be perfect; at every turn they have to spew something negative. I'm surprised nobody has gone after Mt. Rushmore and found something to complain about it. Apparently they are so miserable they have to try to spread their misery for all to enjoy.

    August 2, 2013 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  6. Knightmese

    MLK from what I have read was a great man and the black community could really use someone like him today. I wonder what he would think if he saw how some of his brothers use the freedoms that he and many others fought and died for. I wonder if he would even feel safe walking down the streets of Detroit. I wonder what he would say if he saw how Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson pushed their racial agenda and ignored the real plight of the black people. We will never know.

    August 2, 2013 12:42 am at 12:42 am |
  7. cynthia

    Ah, yes, all the faceless, anonymous racists tapping away on their little keyboards. How many would be honest enough to say their vomit in person?

    August 2, 2013 01:05 am at 1:05 am |
  8. BO

    King is way over rated.

    August 2, 2013 02:05 am at 2:05 am |
  9. Tricia McMillan

    If they thought the quote was too long, why didn't they just use a shorter quote? Paraphrasing is not the same as quoting.

    August 2, 2013 02:32 am at 2:32 am |
  10. Sheng

    How the HELL does it cost almost a million dollars to scrape some stone off the side of a statue?!

    August 2, 2013 03:02 am at 3:02 am |
  11. Eric

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

    Andrew, your overt prejudice is precisely what Martin Luther King opposed. Lei Yixin is a prominent Chinese sculptor, not a hack. There is no evidence he worked for slave wages. So yes, he'd be upset... at you.

    August 2, 2013 03:24 am at 3:24 am |
  12. craig

    The same old complaints we heard when American architect Maya Lin won the competition for the Vietnam Memorial. Yup, she's of Asian ancestry, and therefore clearly not an appropriate person to design the memorial. Too bad, because those of use who were there think she got it exactly right!

    August 2, 2013 03:33 am at 3:33 am |
  13. frances coles selma,al

    I am a child of 1960s movement. I in my sixties now. It is important to us where in the pews, listening to MLK.Jr. to sure what WE heard him say is passed on correctly.

    August 2, 2013 05:11 am at 5:11 am |
  14. frances coles selma,al

    Ms angelou IS right. please respect. We were taught to love by our afric an ameri an mothes. It seem to me white mothers their children to Hate.any other race of people. White people are successful. Theirchildren. now their adults are great HATES. I don t really think I mothers failed whi.le trying to teach us to love all people, but as we tried to love you somehow the hate that showb us .made it impossible for us reach. The things you say about poeple dont even kn ow is sad.. There's no help regarding race

    August 2, 2013 05:34 am at 5:34 am |
  15. Tony Patton

    Regardless of what others are saying about the memorial, Dr. Kings gestures, etc., he was a great man of God. He saw so much of what America COULD be that his message will resonate for all time.

    I just wish he could have been around to see his dream come to fruition.

    As far as the memorial goes, yes, it doesn't really do him justice, as does the Licoln and Jefferson memorials. Not quite as breathtaking and awe-inspiring. However, it does capture his humble strength of character, and his facial gestures, which will live in the minds of those of us who had the privilege of seeing him in the 60's.

    God bless you Martin Luther King Jr.

    August 2, 2013 06:28 am at 6:28 am |
  16. Anonymous

    It should say "Al, Jesse... We fought he good fight when it needed fighting. Now you're making us look foolish with your race baiting, simply to keep yourselves relevant and maintain your income.".

    August 2, 2013 06:38 am at 6:38 am |
  17. Razor

    They should just remove MLK out of the rock. Saved money and the controversy in this times of sequestration.

    August 2, 2013 06:44 am at 6:44 am |
  18. BoFo

    What a lot of wasted hot air over nothing.

    August 2, 2013 06:52 am at 6:52 am |
  19. Juanfer05

    A sculptor is deepening grooves in the stone to take away the words. That is a $700,000 – $800,000 job??? So much for the term "starving artist" if making grooves is that profitable.

    August 2, 2013 07:09 am at 7:09 am |
  20. artappreciator

    So Maya Angelou gives her opinion about the qoute and then they waste $800K to remove it ? how stupid. Who crowned her Queen of Qoute Interpretations? It's not that big of a deal, in my opinion. The sculpture isn't even that good.

    August 2, 2013 07:11 am at 7:11 am |
  21. Cooper

    How does it cost $800,000 I would happily do the work free of charge.

    August 2, 2013 07:23 am at 7:23 am |
  22. John Tate

    Wow, there's some racist stuff being posted here! It's also pretty clear which political party they belong to, although that party tries it's best to claim they hate Obama for other reasons. Ha!

    August 2, 2013 07:31 am at 7:31 am |
  23. nunya

    How is $700-800,000 a slave wage? Besides, shouldn't the sculptor fix it for free?

    August 2, 2013 07:47 am at 7:47 am |
  24. Wake up People!

    Yep, racism in America is dead.......

    And Sarah Palin is my twin sister.....

    August 2, 2013 08:11 am at 8:11 am |
  25. LarryT

    Regardless of what anyone says about this article or the monument, MLK was a man of courage who loved his people and his country. Anyone who doesn't believe that should visit his grave. He gave his all. And that from a "white" boy!

    August 2, 2013 08:12 am at 8:12 am |
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