The new Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C., was just unveiled, but it's already engulfed in controversy. Poet Maya Angelou says the monument distorts King's memory because an inscription in the stone mangles his words. In one of his last sermons, 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." The inscription reads, "I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness." Angelou says the shortened version makes the humble civil rights leader sound like "an arrogant twit." Is the edited quote really that bad?
Angelou is absolutely right: You just can't leave out the "if" clause, says Rachel Manteuffel at the Monterey, Calif., Herald. King was telling critics who accused him of being "an attention-craver — a puffed out drum major" — that he didn't mind as long as they recognized that he was "doing it for the most noble causes." This inscription makes King sound "like something he was not: an arrogant jerk." So let's get out the chisels and correct the mistake.
"King's quote twisted on memorial"
The time to complain has passed: Maya Angelou was on the advisory board when this memorial was being drawn up, says David Usborne at Britain's Independent. She had plenty of opportunities to attend meetings when the inscriptions were discussed, but she never objected. So why is she making a stink now that the 30-foot sculpture has been built and opened to the public? If she's not careful, people will think she's the one who's a "twit."
"Martin Luther King quote makes him look a twit, says Maya Angelou"
At least now we are talking about King's legacy again: "The criticism is valid," says Jenée Desmond-Harris at The Root. But "a walk around the memorial shouldn't represent anyone's entire experience with the life of MLK." No inscription, no matter how accurate, could "perfectly communicate the many nuances of his work and personality." But this controversy is a good sign, because it shows that the memorial is rekindling "a conversation about the civil rights leader's legacy."
"Maya Angelou slams MLK memorial inscription"