Maya Angelou Not Feeling MLK Memorial Quote
Poet and author says the quote makes him sound like an 'arrogant twit'
Maya Angelo knows a good quote when she sees one, being that she is probably one of the most quoted people in history. But that quote on the side of the Martin Luther King Memorial in the Washington Mall? No, no good.
The monument's quote paraphrases a speech King gave at Ebenezer Baptist Church weeks before he was assassinated. The entire quote reads, “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 Cliff Notes version etched into the statue says, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”
Angelou does not approve, saying that the quote "minimizes" MLK and makes him looks like an "egoist" and "arrogant twit" among other things.
“He was anything but that,” said Angelou, who served as a consultant on the monument's construction. “He was far too profound a man for that four-letter word to apply. 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.”
Originally, the whole quote was to be added onto the memorial. But due to a last-minute design change, the quote was shortened. Before this, people were complaining that the statue, made by Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin, looked too stern. Nothing like the friendly "I Have a Dream" guy we were taught about in school.
Good thing the sculpture wasn't based on him shooting pool or taking a mugshot, or people would've lost it. Imagine if instead of that "righteousness" quote they decided to use something like, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." Or maybe the one that went "Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed."
"I think it's rather small of folks to pick at things," said the memorial's executive architect, Ed Jackson, Jr. "This has been going on for 14 years, and all of them have had plenty of time to add their thoughts and ideas.”