MLK monument quote stirs up 'righteous' debate

Hurricane Irene scuttled the planned dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial last week in Washington, D.C. But after the winds died down, another tempest began to gather, this one over 10 words inscribed on the actual statue of the slain civil rights leader.

Poet Maya Angelou blasted the decision to engrave on the base of the monument a truncated quote from a sermon King gave just months before his assassination. In the sermon, delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, King said the following:

“Yes, 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 the other shallow things will not matter.”

That quote was shortened to “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness,” and placed at the base of the 30-foot likeness of King. In an interview with the Washington Post, Angelou claimed the abbreviated quote made King look like “an arrogant twit.” For her, it all boiled down to the omission of the word, “if.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked associates of King, public artists and writers their opinion on the controversy. It's a story you'll get only by picking up a copy of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday or logging on to the paper's iPad app . Subscribe today .