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Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in D.C. has Controversial ‘Drum Major’ Inscription Removed

Sculptor Master Lei Yixin surveys the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to prepare for removal of the “Drum Major” inscription (Photo Credit: Jacquelyn Martin)

By Brett Zongker

A Chinese sculptor has removed a disputed inscription from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial statue that he designed on the National Mall and said that he is working on a new finish for the side of the artwork.

Plans call for sculptor Lei Yixin to carve grooves over the former words to match existing horizontal “striation” marks in the memorial. Lei said he is working to deepen all the memorial’s grooves so that they will match.

The disputed inscription was a paraphrase from King’s “Drum Major” speech. It read, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”

Critics, including the poet Maya Angelou, argued that the quotation was taken out of context when it was paraphrased and shortened. Angelou said it made King sound arrogant.

Lei said the corrective work was going well and is on track to finish before commemorations of the 50th anniversary of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech at the March on Washington on Aug. 28.

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