Poetry News

Maya Angelou: memorial makes MLK "look like an arrogant twit"

By Harriet Staff

The new Martin Luther King Jr. Monument draws from a 1968 speech King gave to the Ebenezer Baptist Church: “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.”

Or, you know, something like that. Pressed for space, memorial designers chose to paraphrase the civil rights leader's address in a move poet Maya Angelou says "minimizes the man." Read all about it in Time, The Telegraph, HuffPo, Slate, Forbes, NPR, or the Washington Post:

Carved on the north face of the 30-foot-tall granite statue, the inscription reads: I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.

“The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit,” Angelou, 83, said Tuesday. “He was anything but that. He was far too profound a man for that four-letter word to apply.

“He had no arrogance at all,” she said. “He had a humility that comes from deep inside. The ‘if’ clause that is left out is salient. Leaving it out changes the meaning completely.”

[…] She said the quote should be changed to put it in context. Told the quote had to be paraphrased to fit the available space, she replied: “Too bad.”

Originally Published: September 1st, 2011