On Monday, August 22, many Washington, D.C. tourists had the opportunity to get a first look at the new monument dedicated to the late civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The new 30-foot-tall granite statue stands on 4 acres of the National Mall and overlooks the Tidal Basin.
Since its debut there has been a bit of a controversy over a certain feature of the monument. On the north side of the statue, there is an inscription of a quote taken from King’s powerful 1968 sermon at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. An excerpt of the speech was engraved, saying: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”
Poet Maya Angelou has since addressed her disappointment in the choice of words and called the monument’s feature “misleading”:
“The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit,” Angelou, 83, said Tuesday. “He was anything but that. He was far too profound a man for that four-letter word to apply. He had no arrogance at all. He had a humility that comes from deep inside. The ‘if’ clause that is left out is salient. Leaving it out changes the meaning completely.” The paraphrase “minimizes the man,” she said. “It makes him seem less than the humanitarian he was. . . . It makes him seem an egotist.” [Source]
The original and complete quote from King’s sermon reads as follows:
“Yes, 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.” – The Drum Major’s Instinct
On the other (south) side of the statue, there is another inscription that says: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”