Quote on MLK Memorial is Out-of-Context, Makes King Look "Arrogant" Says Maya Angelou

The creation, planning and unveiling of Washington, DC's new Martin Luther King , Jr., Memorial on the National Mall have not been without critics. The latest quibble with the memorial is, perhaps, a salient one, coming from Maya Angelou.

A story in the Washington Post today explains why Angelou believes a "paraphrased" quote on the memorial is out of context and makes King look arrogant.

On Feb. 4, 1968, two months before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a haunting sermon at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church about a eulogy that might be given in the event of his death.

“If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice,” King told the congregation. “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.” ...

But because of a design change during the statue’s creation, the exact quotes had to be paraphrased, and now one of the memorial’s best-known consultants, poet and author Maya Angelou, says the shortened inscription is misleading and ought to be changed.

Carved on the north face of the 30-foot-tall granite statue, the inscription reads: I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.

“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.

There's no way around it: is extremely unfortunate that the quote is so out of context.

Meanwhile, at The New Republic, here's yet another article making the important case against conservative embrace and appropriation of King's legacy. Writes Michael Kazin, King advocated, with strength, specific policy ideas that today's GOP wouldn't look at twice:


Meanwhile, the preacher-activist forged alliances with left-wingers in the labor movement whom he thought were vital to fulfilling his vision...King was murdered in Memphis where he had gone to aid black sanitation workers who were striking to win the right to collective bargaining, as well as overtime pay and workmen’s compensation. As in many cities at the time, Memphis officials would have nothing to do with public employee unions. They had defeated previous union drives by firing their leaders.

Let's review: anti-tax cuts for the rich, pro social spending, pro labor (and also extremely anti-war). I wonder if the right-wingers who praise King today would respond if he were still with us, advocating these important positions.

AlterNet / By Sarah Seltzer

Posted at August 31, 2011, 4:27am

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