Interior secretary: MLK Memorial misquote 'an area of concern' (VIDEO)

At a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters, Secretary Salazar said Wednesday, 'There are some outstanding issues we are going to have to work through' concerning the King Memorial.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar speaks with reporters at a Monitor-hosted breakfast on Wednesday.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose department oversees the monuments on the national mall, says a misquote on the new Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial “is an area of concern to me.”

Speaking Wednesday at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters, Secretary Salazar said, “There are some outstanding issues we are going to have to work through” concerning the King Memorial, which will be formally dedicated on Oct.16.

“I don’t want what we are doing on the 16th to be clouded by the fact that there are still some things that we are going to have to get done,” Salazar said.

One side of the memorial carries an inscription that quotes Dr. King saying, “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.” But critics point out that the quote is truncated. In the Feb. 4, 1968 speech from which the line comes, King argues against bragging.

In the speech, he says that the “drum major instinct” causes racial problems driven by “a need some people have to feel that they are first” and that their white skin “ordained them to be first.” It is in that context that King says, “If you want to say I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice ... ”

Dropping the conditional word "if," “minimizes the man” and makes him look like an “arrogant twit,” Poet Maya Angelou, who knew King personally, has written.

A recent Washington Post editorial argued that the words on the memorial “are a ham-handed truncation of what Dr. King said, turning a conditional statement into a boast.”

Secretary Salazar said he visited the King Memorial on Oct. 4. “I looked at the quote. I looked at all the other quotes. It is a wonderful memorial. But there are some issues that we will resolve and we will work on them once we get past Oct. 16.”

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