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One of D.C.’s most beloved politicians has become one of an increasing number of Martin Luther King Jr. memorial faultfinders. On Friday, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton tweeted that she wants to see the memorial changed. “Heed outcry on redo of King’s words on Memorial. Distorts man, not just words,” Norton typed. The tweet echoed a criticism, most notably delivered by literary matriarch Maya Angelou, that one of the memorial’s inscriptions paraphrases a quote in a way that makes King “look like an arrogant twit.”
But a statement released on Wednesday by Ed Jackson, the memorial’s executive architect, insists there won’t be any do-overs: “The inscription on the Stone of Hope comes directly from Dr. King’s words. Our goal is to help visitors learn about Dr. King’s central beliefs and commitments. We have no plans to alter the Memorial.”
The quote in question appears on the north side of the sculpture and reads “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness,” instead of Kings more humbly wrought “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.”
Jackson may seem confident at this point, but while people are unlikely to get behind major changes to the memorial, pressure for an inscription-do-over could easily mount. Angelou and Norton certainly have pull within a black community enormously invested in King’s legacy—and a generation familiar with how to fight for change.
Photo by Lydia DePillis