The quote reads, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness."
It was taken from a 1968 speech where King 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.”
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who represents the District of Columbia
in Congress, was one of many who objected to the shortened quote.
Author Maya Angelou harshly criticized the paraphrase, saying it “makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit.”
“The ‘if’ clause that is left out is salient. Leaving it out changes the meaning completely,” she said.
King’s family initially wanted the quote to be replaced with the full phrase, but that plan would have threatened the structural integrity of the statue. The sculpture’s designer, Chinese artist Lei Yixin, recommended that the quote be removed instead of replaced.
“While our family would have of course preferred to have the entire ‘Drum Major’ quote used, we fully endorse and support [Interior Secretary Ken Salazar]’s proposal,” said King’s sister, Christine King Farris.
According to the press release, the quote will be removed by carving striations over the lettering, which will match the existing scratch marks on the sculpture and continue the design theme, of a “stone of hope” out of the “mountain of despair,” which was taken from King’s iconic 1963 “I have a dream” speech.
The memorial, which is located near the Tidal Basin across from the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, will remain open while under construction, but the Interior Department warned that scaffolding would limit visibility during parts of the process.
For that reason, the Interior Department and National Park Service determined that construction would not begin until after Obama’s inauguration, which coincides with Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 21.
Work will begin in February or March, and is estimated to be completed by spring 2013, according to the press release.