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For the second time in its young existence, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial is getting a do-over.

First, a rare northeastern hurricane forced the dedication of the first monument on the National Mall to honor a black American to be pushed back by more than five weeks. Then, last Friday, U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar ordered that a famous King quote incorrectly chiseled onto the granite on the left flank of the memorial be corrected.

Salazar said he instructed the National Park Service to consult with the King memorial foundation and the slain civil rights leader’s family and come back to him within 30 days with a plan to fix the butchered quote.

“This is important because Dr. King and his presence on the Mall is a forever presence for the United States of America, and we have to make sure that we get it right,” Salazar said.

The embarrassing incorrect quote came from the February 1968 “Drum Major Instinct” sermon King delivered to his Atlanta congregation some two months before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

In the sermon, King spoke about how he wanted to be remembered. “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say 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.” 

However, the memorial’s inscribers shortened and paraphrased King’s words, and the phrase currently reads “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.” The memorial’s incorrect quote made King conceited and boastful instead of humble and contemplative.


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