The 30-foot statue has a quote inscribed on it, which reads, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”
“The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit,” says Angelou. “He was anything but that. He was far too profound a man for that four-letter word to apply.”
The quote in context is King talking about his own eulogy, in a sermon he gave just a few months before he died. The full quote is as follows, “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.”
Angelou insists that taking out the “if you want to say” part makes King sound conceited, as though he were praising himself. And not only did the memorial officials remove the “if you want to say” part, but they condensed the entire quote, which is not what the historians charged with choosing which quote should be on the memorial had in mind, as they chose the quote in its entirety.
The Post’s Rachel Manteuffel also points out that the original sermon from which teh quote was taken is about the human desire to be at the front of the pack, but that that is folly. King acknowledges in the sermon he is just as prone to this weakness of wanting to be out front as everyone else, but hopes he’ll be remembered for his causes, not seeking attention. The quote on the statue does not convey that message at all, when taken out of context and shortened.