Maya Angelou has a beef with the designers of the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. She says that a decision to paraphrase one of the two quotes that appear on the statue makes the civil rights icon look like “an arrogant twit.”
King delivered the full quote in question on Feb, 1968, two months before he was assassinated. “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice,” King told the congregation at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. “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.”
A late design change to the new monument that swapped the location of that quote with the other on the 30-foot-tall granite statue, however, forced the famous lines to be shortened to fit on the statue’s north side, the Washington Post reports. The inscription reads only: I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.
“The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit,” Angelou said Tuesday. “He was anything but that. He was far too profound a man for that four-letter word to apply.”
Angelou said that the paraphrase “minimizes the man” and “makes him seem like an egotist,” and that it should be changed to put it into context. “The ‘if’ clause that is left out is salient,” she said. “Leaving it out changes the meaning completely.”
The inscription on the statue’s south face reads: Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope. That line was originally planned for the north face of the statue, but was moved to the south side because it is the main theme of the memorial and designers wanted it to be on the side that visitors see first.
The memorial’s executive architect, Ed Jackson Jr., said that he ran the decision by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, as well as other historical advisers, and that no one had a problem with it.
“I think it’s rather small of folks to pick at things,” he told the Post. “This has been going on for 14 years, and all of them have had plenty of time to add their thoughts and ideas.”