Controversial 'Drum Major' paraphrase removed from MLK memorial
August 1st, 2013
04:24 PM ET
10 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


    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
    These were my original thoughts also.
    Something of this magnitude that is will be on permanent display and forms part of our national monuments should have the BEST talent.
    I don't know who was on the list submitted by the donors. I don't know how many people can perform this type of work. But what said makes perfect sense.

    August 2, 2013 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  2. swahilli

    I did not realize MLK was Chinese

    August 2, 2013 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  3. Chris

    Rudy I suggest you look up Robert Byrd who opposed the civil rights he was a Democrat till the day he died in 2010 check mate Al Gore Sr Al Gores Father Also Opposed It. you're brain washed rudy the parties never switched even Obama in his book Dreams From my Father States Democrats Use Blacks For Plantation Politics

    August 2, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  4. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    I also think it is a bit ridiculous to pass judgment on this outstanding sculptor's work based on pictures.
    You just cannot appreciate the magnitude of his work from something that is one-dimensional. I really do not believe you can appreciate it until you are walking towards it, and finally come to stand in front of it. Much like the Lincoln memorial.
    It is a magnificent piece of work, and I will take my hat off to the sculptor.
    I don't care what color or nationality he is.
    And that's all I've got to say about that...

    August 2, 2013 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  5. Ines

    Referring to Dominican mama 4 Obama post. You are(getto speak yar)100% right. Why is there not one n-word in america that could have carved this. Welfare. And the new young blacks do not understand why slaves were whipped. Ask John Stussel
    P.S. Duck tape and plastic bags would have covered his quote for $12.32. Not $800,000. We should all thank the black female peot() for letting us know his quote was taken out of context. Even though it means the same thing to 90% of American people.

    August 2, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  6. DDT

    Like so many are saying, it looks cheap, unfinished, a Mao-like pose.

    The statue has about as much of MLK's revolutionary passion as the Chinese next door. What a slap on MLK's face.

    August 2, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  7. TheBigT

    Funny, I never saw anything wrong with the quote. Precise and to the point.

    August 2, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  8. Brandon

    WW1 isn't important Shelly... MLK is more important than EVERYTHING in this country nowadays. It's this huge movement of progressive liberal destroyers along with the gay movement, the illegal immigrant movement, the anti-gun movement, the invasion of privacy movement, the socialist movement, etc. This country is progressing REAL fast in the WRONG direction. Now everyone can pat themselves on the back when in 10 years the country is a police state and then you crying and wondering what happened. Obama knows that you guys are buying his dictatorship and he is doing exactly what has been the plan since Sept 11th 2001. Bush and Obama are NO different and the GOP and the Dem's are working together. I don't need to think of conspiracy theories the whole truth is right in front of your face if you observe what has been happening. The arguing and the divide and conquer routine goes from the white house straight through the media and into your ears ALL day EVERY day which in turn makes people split down the middle. Everything that Obama does comes straight out of Hitlers playbook. There is soooo much I wont delve into it all but people should do some research because Bush and Obama are a lot more aquainted then you may realize. Why do you think Obama hasnt repealed any of Bush's policies? He has just expanded on them. The whole idea behind the Sept. 11th attacks was to create the illusion that the US people were so in danger that we need to ramp up security and then they are using the same security to control our people here. That's it, in a nutshell, and that is the def truth. People need to open their eyes and take a look at what is going on. What the heck am I thinking though? The Obama admin hands out freebies to keep people in check and lets people in the country that cant read and these people are his voting base although I seriously doubt we are who really elects officials these days I think they know beforehand who will be elected.

    August 2, 2013 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  9. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Her nit picky little comment cost this country almost a million dollars,
    Did it?
    It is my understanding, according to this story, that they had set monies aside for repairs. Monies that were donated by private individuals.
    It also said in this story that repairs have typically been made to other monuments.

    August 2, 2013 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  10. Kyle

    If they just took off the "I was" part, it would be perfectly acceptable. It would then be declaring that he was exactly what he was, rather than misquoting him in a way that made him sound arrogant.

    August 2, 2013 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  11. Shawn

    My guess is that Ms Angelou probably thought it was a great paraphrase but as time went on, maybe others commented to her that it seemed arrogant and removed the true meaning of the words and the more she thought about it, the more she thought they were right, or she just looked at it in a different mind set on her own and came to the conclusion. I agree with her though and I am sure that much thought went into the decision. I'm sure she didn't just wake up and say, "Hey that sounds arrogant, remove it." As far as how much it costs, I'm sure the cost of restoring any monument is expensive to ensure it is done right. They are putting a lot of trust in this man to do it right, and trust means money sometimes.

    August 2, 2013 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
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