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A year later, King memorial inscription unchanged

Published August 29, 2012 12:51 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • A year after the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened to visitors on the National Mall, the group behind the monument is still working with the National Park Service to change an inscription quoting the civil rights leader and is planning to bring new programs to the site.

Critics, including the poet Maya Angelou, complained last year that the inscription didn't accurately reflect King's words from a 1968 sermon about how he would like to be remembered. It reads: "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness."

The phrase is inscribed without quotation marks because it is paraphrased. But the full quotation seems more modest. The U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees the park service, ordered in February that the memorial should display the full quote.

The full quotation reads: "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 new text will be slightly smaller than the current inscription.

Harry Johnson, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the work to change the inscription will wait until after the height of the summer tourist season. Then the $120 million memorial's original sculptor and stone carver will return likely in September or October to change the words carved in the central "Stone of Hope."

"We're trying for the least amount of disruption so that no harm is done to the stone," Johnson said of the upcoming stone work. Previously, the memorial group fought the change saying an alteration would harm the design and cause a mismatch in the memorial's granite color.

Now plans call for Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin to chip away stone from the current inscription, add new granite and then smooth the lines of the stone to help hide the patch work. Then third-generation stone carver Nicholas Benson of Newport, R.I., will add the full quotation to the memorial.

Organizers plan to complete the work by King's birthday in January, though it's not yet clear how much the work will cost. Johnson said the memorial foundation will help the park service pay for the stone work.

Between 1.5 million and 2 million people have visited the memorial in its first year, Johnson said.

The memorial group also is announcing plans to continue supporting the monument honoring King by becoming a booster organization to help the park service fund programs and maintenance at the memorial site.

Plans call for adding a multimedia walking tour using mobile devices like iPads to allow visitors to hear King's speeches as they read some of his historic words engraved in the monument. A donor has already offered to provide the electronic equipment, and the memorial site is equipped with wireless Internet service, Johnson said.

"Our plan is to just talk about the significance of the quotes and give more of a walking history of the memorial," he said. "That was in the plan originally. So now it's time to take that a step further."