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. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Yes, what Rembrant said.

    August 2, 2013 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  2. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    And also what DJ said.
    Sign my "name" below theirs.

    August 2, 2013 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  3. Cheyenna

    Maya Angelou's words on a monument made for the slaves (in Atlanta) was changed. People didn't like her poetry. So now she's taking it out on MLK monument's maker.

    August 2, 2013 08:27 am at 8:27 am |
  4. Rudy NYC

    I have never understood why is it that a Chinese citizen was hired to carve this sculpture when there were American sculptors lined up by the dozens, including numerous African Americans. It was a mistake, and many African Americans that I know took it as an act of ignorance. The misquote is a mistake. Dr. King's likeness is a mistake, too.. I find the likeness of Dr. King's face just a little bit off target. I wish someone could fix that, too.

    August 2, 2013 08:30 am at 8:30 am |
  5. Anonymous

    seems to me the only racist comments on here are from those who want to accuse others of being racist

    August 2, 2013 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  6. smith

    I read the passage on the memorial and I didn`t come away thinking MLK was smut or arrogant. As far as some comment on here being racists, I haven`t seen any. Everybody has their right to an opinion and just because you don`t like it doesn`t make them a racist. Lets stop with the racecard garbage.

    August 2, 2013 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  7. Honey Badger

    Dr, King wasn't a leader to be respected only by blacks, but by all people. He stood for justice and liberty for everyone and said this many times. His immediate mission was to support the implementation of civil rights for blacks, but he believed that no one was totally free if one segment of society was denied the same rights.

    I visited the memorial during the inauaguration weekend and felt a great deal of pride and history just being in the presence of two great Americans – Dr. King's memorial and President Obama's second inauguration.

    It doesn't matter to me that a Chinese sculptor created the artwork. I do believe that Dr. King considered himself an American first, but also a citizen of the world. If you are aware of Dr. King's legacy, the words on the memorial aren't confusing. If you are confused, either ask someone who knows his work or do some research. It's not a secret.

    August 2, 2013 08:41 am at 8:41 am |
  8. KeninTexas

    What a big waste of effort over something so minor. Maya Angelou just wanted to get some attention and blew everything out of proportion.

    August 2, 2013 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  9. Dr Matrix

    Don't paraphase the statement. Quote it correctly with enough of the statement that it is not taken out of context. Let the spirit of what he said be understood. Perhaps it can inspire someone to continue to fight for everyone's rights.

    August 2, 2013 08:45 am at 8:45 am |
  10. KeninTexas

    There is a reason this story is in the politics section. Just a tempest in a teapot.

    August 2, 2013 08:46 am at 8:46 am |
  11. Donna

    MLK was a great man. I remember watching him on the tele, and even though my father was a bigot, he even thought highly of him. The words, and there were many, that should be on his memorial should not be paraphrased, but used wholly. There are so many words he spoke that would be more suitable for the memorial. Though I do not like the design as a whole, it is a commemoration of what he stood for and who he was.

    Sheng the memorial is made of granite, tough to "scrape" anything off.

    August 2, 2013 08:50 am at 8:50 am |
  12. 1logicalchristian

    $700,000 to $800,000 for the "repair"? Wow! Somebody or some group is getting reamed here. I don't claim to understand everything about anything.... but I just can't fathom how it can cost three-quarters of a million dollars to remove the letters.

    August 2, 2013 08:50 am at 8:50 am |
  13. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    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.
    Well said Beverly. How sad.
    I live in Maryland and have been to the monument on several occasions to bring family and friends from out of town to see it. It is indeed in a beautiful contemplative setting. They could not have picked a better place, although it is a hike from the nearest metro station.
    MLK was NOT a perfect man, but he was an agent of change at a much needed time for millions of disenfrachised Americans.
    He paid the ultimate price, even with all of his human failings, fully aware that his time could come whenever he took to the podium to speak for those that could not speak for themselves.
    He was NOT perfect. Neither was Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, the WWII soldiers, the Vietnam Vets, but they all led, isnpired and sacrificed so that those spewing the thoughts of their diseased mind on this thread could enjoy a more perfect union with their fellow Americans.

    August 2, 2013 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  14. Rudy NYC

    Chris wrote on page 3:

    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
    Your history is what is lacking. You need to keep reading the book until the end. People switched parties like rats jumping off of a burning ship. Most all of those who voted *for* the CRA wound up as Democrats, and most all of those who voted *against* the CRA wound up as Republicans. I suggest that you do a web search for this word, " dixiecrat ".

    August 2, 2013 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  15. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    ...Indeed, enjoy a more perfect union with the citzens of the world.

    August 2, 2013 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  16. Rudy NYC


    seems to me the only racist comments on here are from those who want to accuse others of being racist
    You rest my case.

    August 2, 2013 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  17. Michael

    No one is more deserving of a monument. I consider Rev. King one of my personal heroes. If it was up to me the monument would have been larger that one of the Pyramids of Giza.

    August 2, 2013 08:57 am at 8:57 am |
  18. Who Cares

    Wait until someone pours green paint on it....

    August 2, 2013 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  19. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    An agent for change indeed as I actually agree for the first time with one of Donna's posts.
    Your post, by the way Donna, gives credence to the expression about the " apple not falling far from the tree".

    August 2, 2013 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  20. Pete

    Did the King family really ask for money to have the memorial added to the National Mall?

    August 2, 2013 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
  21. Rudy NYC

    Pete asked:

    Did the King family really ask for money to have the memorial added to the National Mall?
    Would it make you happier if the monument were publicly funded?

    August 2, 2013 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  22. Tutuvabene

    So, $700,000 is being spent to chip the phrase off because one person thought it sounded arrogant? Let's hope she doesn't find any other arrogance on the monuments. Her "humility" would cost a fortune.

    August 2, 2013 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  23. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Rudy NYC

    I have never understood why is it that a Chinese citizen was hired to carve this sculpture when there were American sculptors lined up by the dozens, including numerous African Americans.
    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.

    August 2, 2013 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  24. Splasher6

    tell us again how many hundreds of thousands of dollars the King family CHARGED the memorial committee to use MLK's likeness??? and now they're worried about wording on a memorial that looks nothing like him made in China.... LOL

    August 2, 2013 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  25. Tutuvabene

    Angelou should pay at least a portion of the cost to chip the phrase off, since she didn't like it. King's actual phrases do not sound any less arrogant.

    August 2, 2013 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
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