City Paper is not for tourists
Count poet Maya Angelou as one more person who’s not jazzed about the misleading shortening of a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote chiseled into the brand new memorial that saw a soggy opening last weekend during Hurricane Irene:
Carved on the north face of the 30-foot-tall granite statue, the inscription reads: I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.
“The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit,” Angelou, 83, said Tuesday. “He was anything but that. He was far too profound a man for that four-letter word to apply.
“He had no arrogance at all,” she said. “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.”
The full quote—which sculptor Lei Yixin said wouldn’t fit—was, “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 truncated version is just one more piece of kindling for critics of the memorial. Interested parties have been up in arms over the choice of a Chinese sculptor, Chinese granite, foreign workers who didn’t know how much money they would make, and the rather severe facial expression of the man himself.
But on the bright side, at least the subject of the statue can go without reproach—which is something we can’t say for a number of other memorials in the D.C. area. Here are five of the more dubious monuments, which somehow managed to be created and dedicated before the civil rights leader got his due recognition:
- Andrew Jackson, the seventh president. Jackson holds position on a statue near the White House. The monument is one of four identical pieces in different parts of the country, commemorating Jackson as a general. A general who, in the name of preserving the union, conquered Florida by mass-murdering African American militiamen and their Seminole and Chocktaw allies.
- Roger Taney, the Supreme Court justice. Taney has two statues: one in Annapolis and one in Frederick, Md. He wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott decision—you know, the ruling that made it clear blacks were not citizens of the United States. He also wrote the decision that left slave-holding up to the states.
- Queen Isabella of Spain. Hanging out in front of the Organization of American States is a representation of the Spanish queen, who gave Christopher Columbus the money that would support him as he governed Hispaniola with a barbaric fist. (She also supported expelling all Jews who wouldn’t convert to Christianity from Spain, and just for good measure, fought a war with Portugal.)
- Sonny Bono. Okay, so maybe Bono isn’t on the level of the others when it comes to crimes against humanity, but it’s still strange that the departed congressman has a plaque and a tiny triangle of a park in Dupont Circle. Yes, the beat goes on, but perhaps on the West Coast?
- Don Quixote. Cervantes‘ creation sits atop his horse Rocinante (sans Sancho Panza, alas) near the Kennedy Center. We have no real bone to pick with the man of La Mancha…except for the fact that he doesn’t exist.
Photo by ktylerconk via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license