The controversy started with Maya Angelou, who said the paraphrase made King sound like an "arrogant twit." This weekend, another editorial came out, this time from a major proponent of changing the FDR Memorial saying that they "fixed" FDR and they can "fix" MLK too.
I disagree. Here's why.
1. It's art. You don't have to like it. It is an artist's, or more particularly, a whole design team's vision for how to represent an idea. Just because you don't like it doesn't make it wrong. You don't hear people crying out to "fix" the Mona Lisa because the background is crooked and uneven, do you?
Holy crap, the background is crooked! Fix it!
The people are too distorted! Fix it! Fix it!
She's too naked! Fix it! Fix it! Fix it!
That's more appropriate.
2. Martin Luther King specified that this was how he wanted to be remembered. In his "Drum Major Instinct" speech on February 4, 1968, just two months before he was killed, King closed the speech with a list of many things that he wanted to be remembered for after he was gone. If you click the video below, I've got it programmed to start right at the quote in question.And here is a transcript of the Drum Major Instinct speech. It doesn't take an English major to pick up on a situation where a hypothetical isn't really a hypothetical.
Without knowing the mind of the designers, I think they felt that enough time had elapsed and history had borne out King's "hypothetical" to be the truth. Yes, he was a drum major for justice. Yes, he was a drum major for justice. Yes, he was a drum major for righteousness. The memorial captures exactly what Dr. King said he wanted to be remembered for succinctly, directly, economically.
3. How would you even go about changing it? In case you hadn't noticed, the quote is carved in stone. The rest of the stone around it is all carved, textured to a fine detail. You would wreck the whole thing if you started blasting away at it with a chisel.
4. This isn't the first time a figure has been paraphrased on the National Mall. Just look at the mess that is the Jefferson Memorial. You don't hear people screaming about that one, and Jefferson is in many ways an architect of American society. Pretty important. You'd think that of all men, a man of letters would want to be quoted warmly and accurately.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is hugely popular. It is the one people ask about no matter where you are in the park. The reaction from the public is overwhelmingly positive.
The rain date for the dedication is October 16. No word yet whether they intend to address this issue at the ceremony. The architect on the project has said since the opening of the memorial that the quote will not be changed.