WASHINGTON - Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has ordered a correction to a badly mangled quotation from Martin Luther King Jr. on the granite Tidal Basin memorial to the slain civil rights leader.
Salazar said yesterday that he has told the National Park Service to consult with the memorial foundation and the King family and to report back to him within 30 days with a plan to fix the carved excerpt that turned a modest and mellifluous phrase into a prideful boast.
“This is important because Dr. King and his presence on the Mall is a forever presence for the United States of America,’’ Salazar told the Washington Post.
Edward Jackson, the memorial’s lead architect, said the foundation responsible for building it has come up with a proposal for alternative wording that expands the excerpt. But he said it’s impossible to carve the quotation in its entirety in the yard-thick granite without destroying the monument.
The paraphrase on the north face of the 30-foot-tall granite statue comes from a 1968 sermon King delivered. King spoke of the “drum major instinct’’ as the epitome of egotism, a self-centered view of the world that he denounced. Imagining his eulogy, King used the conditional tense: “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 after the architect and the sculptor thought the stone would look better with fewer words, a shortened version was put on, composed of just 10 words with a heavy staccato beat. It was no longer a conditional statement; it was a flat assertion: “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.’’