On this MLK Day, Righting the Rhetoric on King's Memorial

Uploaded by PBSNewsHour on 16.01.2012

bjbjLULU JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and correcting
an error on his memorial. Margaret Warner has our story. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And
what's your name? MARGARET WARNER: President Obama and his family set the day's theme with
a volunteer project at a school in Washington. BARACK OBAMA: This is the third year now that
we provide or engage in some sort of service on Dr. King's birthday. And there's no better
way to celebrate Dr. King than to do something on behalf of others. MARGARET WARNER: It was
the first King holiday since the Martin Luther King Memorial opened to the public on the
National Mall last August. MAN: And this is the actual birthday of Martin Luther King
Jr. MARGARET WARNER: On Sunday, when King would have been 83, his son, Martin Luther
King III, took part in a wreath-laying there. At the memorial today, visitors stopped to
read aloud the words of the civil rights leader carved in granite. CHILDREN: Dignity, equality
and freedom for their spirits. CHILDREN: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
MARGARET WARNER: But another quote chiseled into the stone has been a source of criticism.
Currently, it reads: "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness." It was
taken from a 1968 speech in which King discussed how he might be remembered after his death.
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., civil rights leader: 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 of the other shallow things will not matter.
MARGARET WARNER: The memorial's lead architect said the quote was shortened to accommodate
a design change planners made while the statue was being carved in China. But one of the
memorial's consultants, poet Maya Angelou, complained that the truncated version distorted
King's meeting and made him sound like an arrogant twit. A number of others have agreed,
including some visitors to the memorial over the weekend. MAN: He was a great leader. So,
to do that, I think I should you quote a great leader as though he meant it to be remembered.
MARGARET WARNER: On Friday, the Department of Interior, with jurisdiction over the memorial,
announced the inscription would be changed. The president today acknowledged the dispute,
but stressed that the message was the important thing. BARACK OBAMA: If you look at that speech
talking about Dr. King as a drum major, what he really said was that all of us can be a
drum major for service. All of us can be a drum major for justice. There's nobody who
can't serve, nobody who can't help somebody else. MARGARET WARNER: Interior Secretary
Ken Salazar has given the National Park Service 30 days to consult with the memorial's private
foundation, the King family and others on how to modify the inscription. And the error
on the King Memorial was first highlighted in an opinion piece for The Washington Post
late last August. It was written by Rachel Manteuffel, who is an editorial aid for the
paper's opinion section. And she joins me now. And, Rachel, welcome. RACHEL MANTEUFFEL,
The Washington Post: Hi. Thanks for having me, Margaret. MARGARET WARNER: You caused
quite a stir with this column of yours. What first tipped you off that the quote that had
been chiseled in granite was in fact a misquote? RACHEL MANTEUFFEL: You know, I just -- I got
to see it early because I live here. And so it was open to the public before the opening
ceremonies. And when I went to see it, it -- it just didn't seem right to me. It didn't
seem like something he would say. And if it was something he said, then it didn't seem
like something that is in keeping with the spirit that we remember him. MARGARET WARNER:
Now, why do you say it wasn't like something he would say, to say I was a drum major for
peace, justice and righteousness? RACHEL MANTEUFFEL: Well, sort of proclaiming himself as something
like that, something that demands a lot of attention, when I sort of see him as a very
-- he almost never talked about himself that way, as the most important part or the part
that deserves attention. MARGARET WARNER: And, in fact, that speech -- it was a 5,000-word
speech -- actually was a warning about the dangers of what he called the drum major instinct,
the desire to be out front, to get a lot of attention. RACHEL MANTEUFFEL: Exactly, and
that if you -- if people say -- he said that if people want to say that he sought attention
that way, he hopes they would say it that he sought attention for justice, peace and
righteousness, which is very different from asserting "I was." MARGARET WARNER: And it
comes right at the end, doesn't it, when he's sort of reflecting on what people might say
about him. RACHEL MANTEUFFEL: Yes, it's true, how he wants to be remembered. MARGARET WARNER:
Now, so, how did this -- when your column first appeared -- well, first of all, go back
to how this reversal of -- really of intent on his part happened, because all the other
quotes on the memorial are exact quotes, aren't they? RACHEL MANTEUFFEL: Mm-hmm. The Council
of Historians, including Dr. Maya Angelou, chose, I think, 14 quotations. And they were
put up -- as you saw in the clip, they're all around on the wall, things like that.
And there's a longer quote, "If you want to say I was..." MARGARET WARNER: Which we heard
him say. RACHEL MANTEUFFEL: Exactly -- "then all these other shallow things will not matter."
And that was in the plans. And those plans were approved by the three government agencies
that were supposed to approve the plans for the memorial. And after approval, without
getting any consultation, there was a design decision made I believe by the architect that
the face they wanted to carve on would not support a quote that long, so they needed
a shorter quote. So they got a shorter quote. MARGARET WARNER: They went ahead and paraphrased
it. So, now, when your piece first appeared, and there was -- the architect, the lead architect
and others with the memorial defended the short paraphrase. What happened? Describe
the reaction and what do you think or you know caused this turnaround, to order essentially
that there is going to be a change after all? RACHEL MANTEUFFEL: I think -- well, The Washington
Post uncovered the story of how there had been a mistake in the process, that these
agencies had approved plans that were changed. And also Dr. Angelou and Martin Luther King
III and several other -- Stephen Colbert -- several other opinion makers, people with moral authority
in the matter who knew Dr. King, et cetera, sort of joined the chorus that was saying,
this is not how we want to remember him. This isn't what he meant. MARGARET WARNER: And
what was the secretary of interior, Ken Salazar's initial reaction? RACHEL MANTEUFFEL: He said
he was concerned about it. And earlier, he wanted to see the dedication happen without
this sort of coming into that, which, you know, makes sense to me anyway. MARGARET WARNER:
So, you mean, when they went through with the official dedication, which actually had
to be delayed because of the hurricane, there was just no mention made of this? RACHEL MANTEUFFEL:
Exactly. And they had a lot of other things to celebrate. MARGARET WARNER: Now, as we
see -- as you see when you go down there or see in this tape, it is a massive structure.
What are the people involved saying are going to be the challenges of actually changing
this? RACHEL MANTEUFFEL: Well, it depends on how they decide to change it. But it is
one big piece of stone. And I don't know how easy or difficult it will be. I know they
did decide to truncate the quote in the first place because they weren't sure the stone
could support all of the words that the Council of Historians chose. So, I don't know how
they're going to do that. But it's going to be part of the plan that the National Park
Service comes up with. MARGARET WARNER: Rachel Manteuffel of The Washington Post, thank you
so much. RACHEL MANTEUFFEL: Thank you so much, Margaret. urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags
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