Maya Angelou is complaining – and she’s right.


Not arrogant. (Photo: Something Original, Creative Commons)

Somehow, in all the events of Hurricane Irene and the crashing economy, I missed the quiet unveiling of the impressive and dignified Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial on the National Mall.  It was probably a smaller event than originally envisioned, pre-earthquake, pre-hurricane. (We wrote about MLK a few days ago, in connection with the postponed opening).

So when I first saw the headline that poet (laureate) Maya Angelou was kvetching about King’s words on the statue, saying it made King sound “arrogant,” I thought, well, that she was just kvetching, the way everyone on the internet kvetches.  I ignored the article.

Then I read it.  She’s right.

Here’s what’s one of the inscriptions, placed on one side of the statue says:

“I was a drum major for justice peace and righteousness.”

Here’s what King said on Feb. 4, 1968, two months before he was assassinated, in a sermon at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church about a eulogy that might be given in the event of his death:

“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.”

Context is all.

Get out the chisel, Washington.

Postscript #1 : Elaine Ray wrote in to say: “I like your bookhaven item on the King monument. Just wanted to clarify that the opening of the monument was not postponed. In fact, the monument had a quiet opening days before the scheduled dedication. It was the dedication that was postponed.” Also read her comment and link in the comments section below.

From Jim Erwin: “Maybe I’ll feel differently once I see it in person, but from the photos it looks like Stalinist monumentalism, which could hardly be more wildly inappropriate for the subject. I suspect Frederick Hart, who did the ‘Three Soldiers’ Vietnam memorial sculpture, could have come closer.”

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2 Responses to “Maya Angelou is complaining – and she’s right.”

  1. Elaine Ray Says:

    And speaking of context, please read my blog post on the historical events that led to the 1963 March on Washington.

  2. Phil Says:

    I heard an NPR interview with the architect in charge of the memorial, and I took his comments to mean the memorial was not intended to represent Dr. King as he was, but to inspire people today. Dr. King would not have wanted a monument to himself anyway, so the quote is less about what he said and more perhaps about what the architect wants to present today.