The situation was stupid enough that Ken Salazar probably wanted to punch someone. When the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was unveiled in 2011, eagle-eyed wordsmiths quickly pointed out that one of the quotes etched into the granite monument had taken King's words out of context, making him seem like "an arrogant twit," said poet Maya Angelou. All because of a missing "if."
But coming up with a fix to the flub has taken over a year. In January, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar -- who left his seat as senator from Colorado to join the Barack Obama administration, and last month threatened to punch a reporter who asked him a question about the department's wild-horse policies -- gave the National Park Service thirty days to correct the mangled quote.
The actual quote came from one of King's speeches, sometimes referred to as the "drum major" speech: "If you want to say I was a drum major, say I was a drum major for peace and righteousness."
But the quote carved into the side of the MLK memorial omitted the word "if" -- giving a new meaning not just to King's original statement, but also the meaning of "chiselers."
Without the "if" that started that sentence, the remaining words made King seem arrogant, critics said; when he set this thirty-day deadline back in January, Salazar said the abbreviated quote was not "an accurate portrayal of what Dr. King was."
But coming up with the solution took more than thirty days, of course -- the memorial is in Washington, after all. Finally, eleven months later, the Interior Department announced yesterday it had a plan. Rather than cut into the granite to put in the complete quote -- and risk damaging the piece, adding insult to the injury to King's reputation -- the fix now calls for removing the offending inscription altogether.
Continue for more about the proposed fix to the Martin Luther King Memorial. "The memorial stands as a testament to Dr. King's struggle for civil rights, and a dream of dignity, respect and justice for all," Salazar said in the announcement. "I am proud that all parties have come together on a resolution that will help ensure the structural integrity of this timeless and powerful monument to Dr. King's life and legacy."
And the snafu stands as a timeless monument to the power of a good proofreader.
Here's yesterday's news release from the Department of the Interior:
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WASHINGTON, DC -- Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today provided an update on the path forward regarding the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial, following discussions with all parties to make alterations to the "Drum Major" quote.
Following consultation with a range of stakeholders, the updated plan calls for removing the quote by carving striations over the lettering to match the existing scratch marks on the sculpture that represent the tearing of the "Stone of Hope" from the "Mountain of Despair." The plan to remove, instead of replace, the quote was recommended by the original sculptor, Master Lei Yixin, as the safest way to ensure the structural integrity of the memorial was not compromised. After close consultation with all parties, Secretary Salazar, the National Park Service, the King family and the Memorial Foundation, and Master Lei Yixin all concur that this is the best path forward.
"The memorial stands as a testament to Dr. King's struggle for civil rights, and a dream of dignity, respect and justice for all," said Salazar. "I am proud that all parties have come together on a resolution that will help ensure the structural integrity of this timeless and powerful monument to Dr. King's life and legacy."
"We are grateful that Secretary Salazar's office and the National Park Service has taken such care to maintain the spirit and appearance of such an important monument to our country's history and my father's memory," said Bernice A. King, Dr. King's youngest daughter and CEO of the King Center in Atlanta.
The memorial will remain open to visitors during the corrective work; however, due to scaffolding and partial coverage of the sculpture, visitors should expect limited visibility during periods of the process. In order to ensure the best visitor experience during the Dr. King's birthday and the 2013 Presidential Inauguration, and to address weather concerns, work will begin February - March 2013, and is estimated to be completed by spring 2013.
"The King Memorial has a special meaning to so many visitors to the National Mall," said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. "We want to make sure that the many thousands of people expected to visit on Dr. King's birthday are able to see and experience this powerful tribute to Dr. King."
"Over the past year, The Memorial Foundation has been working with the National Park Service and Sculptor Master Lei to move forward with changes to the MLK Memorial. We have come up with a design solution that will not harm the integrity of this work of art. We are pleased with the recommendation and look forward to its completion," said Harry Johnson, President/CEO of The Memorial Foundation, formerly known as the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Foundation.
"While our family would have of course preferred to have the entire 'Drum Major' quote used, we fully endorse and support the Secretary's proposal," said Dr. Christine King Farris, Dr. King's sister.
The plan will be submitted to the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission in January for their review as appropriate.
From our archives: "Ken Salazar offers to 'punch out' reporter Dave Philipps for wild horse question."