Dec 12, 2012

(Wash Post) -- Federal officials have decided to resolve a controversy over a 10-word inscription on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial by removing it altogether.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the plan Tuesday to try to end the uproar, which grew out of an inscription that critics said made King sound arrogant.

The dispute pitted those who said that the carving grossly misrepresented King’s thought against the memorial’s designers and advisers, who said it was accurate and artistic.

The Interior Department, which in February announced that the inscription would be replaced, said it should be removed to protect the “structural integrity” of the three-story statue of King where it appears.

“I am proud that all parties have come together on a resolution,” Salazar said, according to an Interior Department statement. “The memorial stands as a testament to Dr. King’s struggle for civil rights, and a dream of dignity, respect and justice for all.”

The work is expected to cost between $700,000 and $900,000 and will be paid for by a special fund created by the memorial foundation and turned over to the National Park Service for maintenance.

The inscription in question comes from a sermon King delivered two months before he was assassinated, in 1968.

Speaking to the congregation of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, King critiqued what he called the egotistical “drum major instinct,” shorthand for a showboat who leads the parade.

Imagining his own eulogy, King said he wanted to be remembered for a higher purpose.

“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice,” King said. “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 that was distilled to the inscription on the north face of the memorial’s statue: I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness. It was designed to match an equally brief inscription on the south face: Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.

Anger and dismay over the truncated version grew after Rachel Manteuffel wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post drawing attention to the abridgement. Poet and author Maya Angelou said it made King sound like an “arrogant twit.”

Dedicated last year, and carved by Chinese master sculptor Lei Yixin, the memorial sits on the northwest shore of the Tidal Basin, southeast of the National World War II Memorial.

The plan is to cut out the inscription to make it look like one of the horizontal “striations” already in the memorial.

The striations, or “horizontal movement lines,” are designed to make the statue look like it has been pulled from the granite mountain that forms its background.

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