Martin Luther King Jr. memorial quote to be changed

Martin Luther King Jr. and his words were etched into stone on a monument in Washington last summer, but historians say a quote inscribed on the monument does not accurately reflect his words and even make King sound like "an arrogant twit".  The U.S. Department of the Interior is planning on changing the quote.

By , Associated Press

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    The statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is seen unveiled from scaffolding during the soft opening of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, Aug. 22, 2011. A misquote inscribed on the statue is expected to be altered to more accurately reflect the civil rights leader's words.
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A quote carved in stone on the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington will be changed after the inscription was criticized for not accurately reflecting the civil rights leader's words.

The inscription currently reads: "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness." The phrase is chiseled into one side of a massive block of granite that includes King's likeness emerging from the stone. It became a point of controversy after the memorial opened in August.

A spokesman for the U.S Department of the Interior said Friday that Secretary Ken Salazar decided to have the quote changed. The Washington Post first reported on Friday the decision to change the inscription.

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The phrase is modified from a sermon known as the "Drum Major Instinct," in which the 39-year-old Kingexplained to his Atlanta congregation how he would like to be remembered at his funeral. He made the February 1968 speech just two months before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.

In the speech, King's words seem more modest than the paraphrased inscription: "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."

Poet Maya Angelou previously said the truncated version made King sound like "an arrogant twit" because it was out of context.

Salazar gave the National Park Service, which the Interior Department oversees, a month to consult with the King Memorial Foundation, which led the effort to build the memorial, as well as family members and other interested parties. The committee is supposed to come up with a more accurate alternative to the quote.

Ed Jackson Jr., the executive architect of the $120 million project, previously said King's words were shortened for space reasons and that he stood by the paraphrased line.

He said in an emailed statement on Friday evening that the cost to make changes to the inscription will be assessed but none of the existing stone work will be removed.

"A few very carefully selected words will be added to the existing phrase; that will further amplify his statement about his role in America during the mid-20th century as a leader, a social advocate, a messenger, a voice of the people ... for freedom, justice, hope and peace," he said.

Harry Johnson, president of the King Memorial Foundation, said it wasn't yet clear what the alternatives might be. The group would look at all the ways a change could be made, he said.

Angelou was named among the memorial's Council of Historians tasked with selecting the inscriptions for the memorial. But she did not attend meetings about the inscriptions, Jackson said. Project planners also explained the shortened quote to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which ultimately approved the memorial's design.

At least one other recent memorial has undergone changes after being opened to the public. After the Franklin D. Roosevelt memorial opened in 1997, advocates for the disabled campaigned to have a statue added portraying Roosevelt in his wheelchair. Originally, only one statue in the memorial alluded to the fact Roosevelt lost the use of his legs after contracting polio as an adult. That statue portrayed him seated with small wheels on the back of his chair.

In 2001, a bronze sculpture depicting Roosevelt in his self-designed wheelchair was added to the entrance of the memorial. Disability groups raised $1.65 million for the addition.

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