I have to admit that I was a little skeptical of the explanation that the architect and sculptor took it on themselves to change the quote without any buyoff. It seemed like a bit of a “pat” explanation, and I wondered if a government official was looking for a face-saving exit.
Then I clicked on a link to a prior article which contains snippets of an interview with the “lead architect”, Ed Jackson Jr. Having read the interview, I no longer harbor any doubts, as both his comments, and the insufferable pomposity of their tone, leaves little doubt that Mr. Jackson was indeed the architect of this fiasco (ahem)(sorry).
I was particularly struck by this quote from Jackson:
Jackson reiterated Friday that he believes the paraphrase is proper and fitting: “We felt it was quite appropriate for (King) to define himself . . . ‘I was a drum major for peace, justice, and righteousness.’ You can’t get any more succinct than that.”
Hmm. You felt it was appropriate for the Reverend King to DEFINE HIMSELF, so you put words in his mouth to make it sound like he was “defining himself” in a way that he would have rejected. Well done, sir. Mayou Angelou famously observed that the revised quote made Mr. King look like a “arrogant twit .” The arrogant twit in this piece is none other than Mr. Jackson.
Later on, Jackson said: “The word ‘if’ suggests that . . . he’s not sure of who he was. . . . We have the historical perspective. We can say emphatically he was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”
Hmm. If the idea is that WE have the historical perspective to make judgments about King that King would not have necessarily agreed with, and therefore it is “OK” to put words in his mouth, then perhaps the inscription should have simply been a comment from a noted King Scholar. If you don’t want to let King define himself with his own words, at least have the decency to not inscribe “I” at the start of the quote you manufactured.
Still later, the article notes: “Asked if the inscription could be altered in any way, the architect said, “No.” “The space is not there” and the overall design and layout of the inscription on the statue would not permit it, he said. “We don’t have an enormous palette here.”
The idea that there was literally no room anywhere on the entire, quite large, monument to write anything more than “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness” is absurd. This is either a pathetic rationalization, or the overall design of the monument was deeply flawed, if that was literally all the room there was to quote him.
I also agree with OP Tipping that even the “full” drum major quote seems like an odd choice, although it would certainly be a vast improvement over the paraphrased version. It seems clear that King did not like the descriptor drum major. He basically said (at the risk of paraphrasing, but, then, at least I’m not putting this on his statute) if you HAVE to call me a drum major, at least say I did it in the interests of justice and righteousness. But there seems to be some clear discomfort with the label, even when modified in that way. So why, then, would you use the drum major quote, even in its original form, when paying homage to him, when there are so many other choices out there that seem more fitting to the man. I can perhaps understand that the most famous lines from the “I have a dream speech” might have seemed like lazy choices, and can see why a less famous quote might be a good choice. But why the drum-major comment?