Maya Angelou Angry Over Shortened Quote on MLK Memorial

| by Michael Allen

The Washington Post reports that poet Maya Angelou, who is a consultant for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, is upset because she believes the paraphrased quote on the memorial completely changes the actual quote by Dr. King in a negative way.

The original quote comes from a speech that Dr. King gave at an Atlanta church, two months before he was murdered: "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."

But the quote that ended up on the MLK memorial reads: "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness."

Angelou reportedly said: "The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit. It makes him seem less than the humanitarian he was. It makes him seem an egotist. 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."

However,  Ed Jackson Jr., the executive architect of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, told the Washington Post that he got approval from the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which was overseeing design of the memorial: "We sincerely felt passionate that the man's own eulogy should be expressed on the stone. We said the least we could do was define who he was based on his perception of himself: 'I was a drum major for this, this and this.'"

The designers of the memorial originally intended to inscribe the entire quote on the statue's south face, the Washington Post reported. But a change in plans moved the "drum major" quote onto the north face, where there wasn't enough room.

What do you think?  Was it wrong to engrave a paraphrased quote instead of the actual words?  What about Dr. King's more famous quotes, should one of those had been used instead?