The new memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C. is carved from massive chunks of granite, but a misquote chiseled into the side of the memorial also proves to be weighty.
On the right side of the monument, the quote “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness” is displayed and attributed to King.
However, the correct, full quotation, as the Washington Post pointed out, is “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 quote is from King’s February 1968 sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct.”
The editorial in the Post argued that the quote should be recast, because the “if” clause in King’s original quote changes the meaning and transforms elevated oratory into the arrogant self-aggrandizement that the misquote on the monument portrays.
The memorial was set to have a grand unveiling and dedication this weekend, but planned activities were canceled ahead of Hurricane Irene’s impact along the East Coast.
This is not the only recent misquote of King: During a September 2010 remodel of President Barack Obama’s Oval Office, a rug was added, with the quote “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” woven in. King cited the quote many times, but acknowledged that Theodore Parker originated the phrase.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.