Martin Luther King's Dream Deferred Again, This Time by a Typo Set in Stone.


Editors have this sort of nightmare all the time: The one about the big typo—far surpassing the heart-attack-inducing "Beloved Aunt" obit miscue— that goes out to press.

This time around, we're talking about the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in DC and the fault and shame lands squarely on an architect, the national park people, and, I suppose, eventually all Americans.

The Wash Post reports of a mega-mistake written in stone on the new monument to King:

The quotation reads: "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness." On first reading, it seems an odd choice, both for its obscurity — "I have a dream," for example, is nowhere in the monument — but also its inscrutability. What did Dr. King mean by "drum major"? Without context, this part of the monument is baffling. 

With context, as a column by The Post's Rachel Manteuffel on the opposite page last week made clear, it gets worse. Read the 5,000-word sermon from which the quote was taken, and you find that the import is almost the opposite of what the civil rights leader intended. The words on the monument, edited not by a historian but by an architect concerned about space, are a ham-handed truncation of what Dr. King said, turning a conditional statement into a boast. The sermon is complex and open to interpretation, but one thing is clear: Dr. King does not claim to be a drum major for anything. The whole speech, in fact, is about the evils of self-promotion.

"The Drum-Major Instinct," which Dr. King delivered on Feb. 4, 1968, is about the folly of wanting to feel important, of seeking recognition and praise. That is a basic human impulse, he said, but it is dangerous and can lead to many social ills, including bigotry: "A lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct, a need that some people have to feel that they are first and feel that their white skin ordained them to be first."

Apparently, the flub can be fixed. Post story here. (Hat tip: Amanada Carpenter)

Previous controversy over the memorial focused over the fact that it was outsourced to a Chinese sculptor (whose previous work included statues of Mao Zedong) using Chinese stone and, apparently, some really bad history books.

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  1. the statue has a sorta understated chinamans visage

    1. Chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature.

      1. my bad, make that slope

      2. one time my mom was in line at a cinnabon and witnessed an old asian guy ask for a “chinaman roll”. The clerk gave the old man a really strange look until he realized that the old guy couldn’t say “cinnamon” correctly.

    2. I thought that too, and didn’t even know until now that the sculptor was Chinese.

      We now have a “Korean Colonel Potter” monument on the frickin’ Mall.

    3. The monument is shit. Scrap it and do another one.

    4. Two nicknames for it I’ve seen: “Martian Luther King” and “Martin Luther Ming the Merciless.”

    5. LACIST!

  2. What the hell was wrong with:

    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
    Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Or does that send the ‘wrong message’ in an era of affirmative action?

    1. No shit. It is as if when they built the Lincoln Memorial they had decided the Gettyburg Address was too long and instead put up a note he wrote to Mary a couple of days before he died. WTF?

    2. I believe they decided to highlight other speeches and writings because they fear that speech, as powerful as it is, may be threatening to overwhelm his other work. He is honored for much more than just that speech.

      1. That is stupid. You only get one monument on The National Mall. It is not the time to be a hipster contrarian. The monument ought to contain his most powerful and famous speech. Lincoln said a lot of great things besides the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural. And I suppose those things get lost because those two speeches are so famous. But so what? Those are the two speeches that belonged on any Lincoln Memorial.

        1. Your use of the word “hipster” is baffling. Anyway…

          From the official website:

          None of the inscriptions are from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, for several reasons. Primarily, the entire memorial design is derived from King’s most memorable speech; given the limited room for sharing his message and the breadth of his work, the overall design itself is the mark of respect for the moving words from 1963.

          The other reason for not including the Dream Speech is that it is Dr. King’s best known speech out of the hundreds he delivered. It is the most taught piece of his work in schools, and, at minimum, the history books reference the famed speech when presenting Dr. King’s role in American History. But key messages that have and will continue to withstand the test of time are lesser known, and this memorial presented the opportunity to shift the focus of attention from one example of Dr. King’s inspirational words to many.

          1. It goes back to the bullshit idea that the point of the monument is not to honor MLK but to educate. You are building a monument for all time. It will be there decades or even centuries later. These people are too stupid for words.

            1. No offense intended but your interpretation of this strikes me as shallow, ignoring the concept of the design and tending to the creation of a cult of personality that sells short the man and his achievements.

              1. Why is picking the obvious and most famous thing “tending to the creation of a cult of personality”? His life is what it was. There is no denying the historic significance of the “I Have a Dream Speech”. You can’t write a history of his life and its effect on the country without talking about that speech. To ignore it because you want people to be educated on other things he said seems to miss the point of the monument. The point of any monument is to honor the person and their achievements. If you think doing that creates a cult of personality, then perhaps you just object to monuments in general, which while a perfectly reasonable view, doesn’t justify the choice of an obscure quote.

                1. You are ignoring the design concept and the placement, both of which honor that speech.

                  1. The design concept and statue itself are horrible. Moreover, it doesn’t make any sense to honor the speech by placement and then make the quote some obsure remark that he probably forgot the day after he wrote it.

          2. And the use of the word “hipster” is not baffling at all. It is not meant literally. But instead points to the completely baffling idea that it is somehow wrong to choose the obvious and famous thing.

            1. The “obvious and famous thing” is referenced in the design of the monument and its location.

              1. Only in an ancillary way. The fact that Lincoln was President is referenced by the fact that his memorial is near the White House. Does that mean the Second Inaugural was a bad choice for his monument?

          3. Okay, okay. I get it; everybody already knows “I have a dream …” But why the stupid excerpt of the “drum major” quote? As engraved it sound really, really lame. For once I agree with Mary Angelou.

            1. Maya Angelou, too.

              1. I have heard that compared to Mary, Maya was quite the little skut.

          4. The other reason for not including the Dream Speech is that it is Dr. King’s best known speech out of the hundreds he delivered.

            The illogic baffles–that’s precisely why it should have been included. It’s the definitive moment of his entire civil rights career, and encapsulated exactly what he was fighting for.

            You see nerds use this sort of logic on the internet all the time when they compile their silly lists of relatively obscure things they deem “important,” as opposed to the most well-known, because to nerds, “popular with most people” = “less worthy.”

            1. Thus my hipster reference.

          5. You can’t honor MLK without his most famous speech. Every American knows that. I guess China doesn’t.

        2. but King had a much better speech he did on this bootleg I have. You’ve probably never heard it, but it’s really powerful.

          1. It’s probably not even on vinyl, poseur.

            1. It’s pressed on compressed neckbeard, tyvm.

              1. Speaking of which… I saw a huge fat guy on a bike yesterday whose neckbeard was so long, it was fluttering in the air behind him.

                1. Speaking of which… I saw a huge fat guy on a bike yesterday whose neckbeard was so long, it was fluttering in the air behind him.

                  I just puked a little.

                2. Speaking of which…

                  Why don’t you blog photos of these things you see? It seems like it could be the next big thing. Unless you’re exaggerating. (If nothing else, it would push down the page that current photo you have front and center.)

                  1. I was driving. Couldn’t get a shot. Damn shame.

                    What’s wrong with the current top post? You don’t like Episiarch and Warty? Or are you some sort of homobigot?

                    1. I can’t stop looking at it.

                    2. N-neither can I…

                    3. I just wish I could fill out my leather pants as nice as those two gents.

  3. This whole time I thought it was viral marketing for this movie.

    1. RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACI….no, wait…

  4. These people can’t get a simple quote right on a monument that took years of planning and design. But, they are perfectly qualified to micro manage the economy and our lives.

    1. Yaaaaawn.

      1. Try not staying up 18 hours a day to make stupid replies to the objects of your obsession.

      2. You really should pay attention – John’s right, you know…

        1. You’ve said it a million times. A million and one doesn’t make it any more interesting.

          1. OK, so you’re bored…go find someplace else to hang out.

  5. Critics have openly asked why a black, or at least an American, artist was not chosen and even remarked that Dr King appears slightly Asian in Mr Lei’s rendering.

    This isn’t a guy who built the railroads here. And critics seem to miss the point of Dr. King’s dream.

    1. I think a better criticism is that they used Chinese slave labor for the MLK memorial.

        1. If so, that would be truly awesome in a horrible sort of way.

          1. Admit it, Fluffy, your sense of humor is as black as your cold, shriveled heart. You’d find that hilarious.

            I have no problems admnitting that if I find out they used Chinese prison slaves to build the MLK monument, I’m gonna laugh myself incontinent.

            1. Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.

        2. Yup. They are being given free room and board, but no pay. They are working for “national honor”. Granted the source is a union stonemason rep, so grains of salt and all that.

  6. I just can’t believe that MLK owed Jabba so much money that he got frozen in carbonite.

        1. OMG thats funny!

  7. Or how about this one

    Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.

    1. Too much God talk for pants-wetting leftists.

      1. The guy said that the night before he died in a speech he hadn’t planned to give and hadn’t prepared before hand. It is one of the most haunting passages in American rhetoric.

        1. I think he was visited by a time traveler.

          1. Was it Liev Schreiber? If so, he has redeemed his previous use of his abilities.

      2. Too much God talk for pants-wetting leftists a taxpayer-funded monument in a secular democracy.

        Also, seem blissfully (willfully) unaware that atheism is far more prevalent among libertarians than in the population as a whole.

        1. If you don’t like God, don’t build a monument to an ordained minister who mentioned God in pretty much every speech he gave. Separation of church and state doesn’t mean the word God can never be on any public building. The guy said it. And you are building a monument to him. If you don’t like it, tough shit, don’t build the monument then. Does getting a monument mean we have to pretend MLK wasn’t a religious person? Air brush his religion out of the history Stalin style?

          1. Because we (the US taxpayers) didn’t memorialize him for being a minister; we memorialized him for being a civil rights leader.

            You totally misrepresented, or failed to get, my point on this.

        2. Too much crazy and misrepresentation for me to respond to, John. Take your meds.

          1. In other words you don’t have a response. If you are building a monument to an ordained minister, why couldn’t you put one of his frequent references to God on the monument? How is that endorsing religion anymore than building the monument in the first place? And if you ever wonder why atheists are generally loathed in this country, look no further than these kinds of petty bitches.

              1. I agree with John here.

  8. Contrast this God awful social realist angry negro statue with something like the Shaw Memorial in Boston. We have completely lost the ability to produce great art. Just sad.

    1. I haven’t. I feel like I should be subsidized by the government to share my genius, though. 😉

    2. The Shaw/54th Mass. Memorial wouldn’t be built today in its present form because it shows a white man riding on his “high horse” above blacks.

      That he was their commanding officer would be irrelevant to the liberal limpouts.

  9. You know, it must be me, but that statue looks more like a Canadian drum major than MLK.

    1. I think it looks like one of those terracotta warrior statues from China.

      1. I was thinking the same thing.

    2. …that statue looks more like a Canadian drum major than MLK

      It’s very true-to-life, but the red pot leaf on his uniform is just weird. Or else I haven’t been to Vancouver in too long.

      1. “You’ve changed, man!”

  10. “The words on the monument, edited not by a historian but by an architect concerned about space, are a ham-handed truncation of what Dr. King said, turning a conditional statement into a boast.”

    Outsourcing the monument to someone who does not speak English as a first language would muck up a quote. Who would have thunk it?

    Also, of all of King’s words to use, does that one not seem oddly racially divisive?

    1. I don’t think it seems racially divisive. But I think you could make the smart ass complaint that it is racist by assuming that since he was black he had rhythm and could dance thus was a “drum major”.

      1. “A lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct, a need that some people have to feel that they are first and feel that their white skin ordained them to be first.”

        Not racially divisive, really?

        1. oh that part. I thought you meant just the part they put on the statue.

          1. So MLK denounces the “drum major instinct” and the words on the memorial begin with “I was a drum major”?

            That is so fucked up.

    2. Uh, I heard the architect defending this on NPR last night…he sounded native-born. Architect =/= sculptor.

  11. Generations of Americans are going to learn about this hero by what they see when they visit his monument.

    Not me. I get my history from cartoons.

    1. Chip Bok And Henry Payne thank you for your attention on Fridays.

    2. and old Mad magazines.

  12. Look on the bright side. We could have outsourced it to the Japanese and gotten weirdly oversized eyes and some inappropriate tentacles on (in?) the statue.

    1. Wait…why didn’t we?

      1. Lowest bid contracting, my man. The Japanese don’t work cheap like the Chinese do.

        1. Yeah, but they’d have done it in 3-D.

  13. I want to know how OSHA didn’t kick that sculptor’s and his employer’s asses for the blatant violation of workplace safety rules that photo shows.

    No guard on the grinder
    Inadequate safety glasses
    No gloves
    Cross handle has been removed from the grinder

    Shit like that could get you disciplined or fired in most power plants, refineries, or factories.

    1. The picture was taken in China where workers regularly die from lack of sideguards on Rx glasses.

    2. Dude, you could submit the pic to them as a violation…but then we’d pay for both the prosecution, defense, fines and court costs…

  14. “The words on the monument, edited not by a historian but by an architect concerned about space, are a ham-handed truncation of what Dr. King said, turning a conditional statement into a boast.”

    The goverment can’t even get a no-brainer like a monument to MLK right–and they want us to trust them to solve our big problems?!

    Overturning Jim Crow was too important a job to be left to government bureaucrats.

    Saving our environment is too important a job to be left to government bureaucrats. Our healthcare system is too important a job to be left to government bureaucrats…

    1. “Overturning Jim Crow was too important a job to be left to government bureaucrats.”

      Of course they couldn’t overturn Jim Crow: the government created and sustained the Jim Crow laws.

      Jim Crow was the product of politicians and job security for government bureaucrats. BTW, Jim Crow laws were overwhelmingly the creation of Democrat and progressive politicians and bureaucrats.

      1. That’s a tired and stupid comment. When the Democrats stopped being the party of southern whites, the same people who used to vote for Democrats started voting for Republicans.

        It’s dishonest to argue that there is some kind of political blood guilt when the parties have changed so much in the last 75 years.

  15. Lincoln said a lot of great things besides the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural.

    “I freed WHO? Holy shit my head hurts.What was that stuff?” for instance.

    1. Like proposing to ship the slaves all back to Africa? That sort of “great” statement? He was quite the racist by our standards, you know.

      1. But less so than Monroe, since he did more than just propose?

        1. That’s a good question. When Liberia was founded, there were fewer free states, so simple emancipation might’ve been messier to the minds of people of the times. I don’t think that was as true in the 1860s.

          Of course, by our standards, they were all racists, sexists, and other ists. Times have changed.

    2. Lincoln was also quite the travel critic.

  16. Are they taking donations to get the rest of it carved? Walking away from it only half-finishes seems like a total dick move.

    1. It’s symbolic of how far The Dream has come, how far it has to go to become reality as well. Or something.

      1. Or that sculptor just doesn’t know how to do feet.

        1. I think we all know what “iconic” comic book artists did the initial sketch of this monument.

          1. Rob Liefeld is Chinese?!?

            1. ***taps finger to nose***

              But the Chinese won’t claim him.

  17. Oh, and I should add that it warms my libertarian heart to see some non-government, non-presidential people memorialized.

    On the mall in the middle of the capital, it comes across like being a president were Jefferson’s and Washington’s greatest achievements, but the things that made Jefferson and Washington worth memorializing–were done before they became presidents.

    The MLK memorial helps mitigate some of that, but we should do more. Maybe a memorial to Edison or some inventor. A memorial to JP Morgan is probably too much to hope for–but I too have a dream!

    1. It’s funny, but (part of) my family actually got screwed over by Morgan. So I’m voting against him getting a statue, that bastard.

      1. I’m not talking about memorializing the investment bank; I’m talking about a memorial to JP Morgan Senior.

        1. I’m talking about John Pierpont Morgan, the man.

          1. I don’t know what he did, but whatever it was, on behalf of rabid capitalists everywhere, I apologize.

            Dude took back the bonds he underwrote at par if the borrower missed interest payments! When Maryland, Florida and Mississippi missed interest payments, he took all those bonds back like I’d take a TV set back to Wal*Mart if it broke.

            …and now I’m staring at an economy where investment banks are no longer on the hook for the securities they underwrite, and I can’t help but look back to the days before regulation with a little nostalgia.

            It almost bankrupted him.

            Dude deserves big time credit for underwriting the expansion of what became the American economy, wonder of the world, slayer of fascism and communism, etc. Like I said, I don’t know what he did to your family, but I bet it wasn’t personal.

            He got blamed for a lot of stuff. He was basically the archetype for what became the Wall Street villain–and a world where people appreciate the good things he did rather than demonize him for being a Wall Street banker? That’s the kind of world I want to live in.

            1. One of my ancestors was rich and got ripped off by Morgan. The shit’s personal, because I’m entitled to my own space program. Fucker.

              1. My great-grandfather was a geologist for Standard Oil.

                When the market crashed, the Rockefellers started paying all of their management in shares–wouldn’t pay them in cash. …and the shares were priced at their newly issued offering price–rather than what they were actually trading for.

                I’ve seen the pictures of how they were living before the crash. My great grandfather had a driver who was famous for shooting the lights out of cars as they drove past if the light shown in his face while he was driving…

                All I inherited from that side of the family was a protestant work ethic.

    2. We have too much stuff on there now. Too many war memorials. And now this. I think we should not have built anything after the Jefferson was completed. If they wanted to build war memorials they should have built them at Arlington. And I think the standard for building Presidential memorials ought to be astoundingly high. If you didn’t help found the country or keep it together during a civil war, you don’t make the cut.

      1. I grew up in DC. I love the mall. I don’t think we should screw up its aesthetics or symmetry either…

        …but we have to counteract some of the damage that’s being done. I mean, that FDR memorial looks like a memorial to socialism. They made a memorial to the bread lines! Because that’s apparently what we want our posterity to think is important to always keep in mind–bread lines?!


        So here’s my nominations: Edison, James Pierpont Morgan, Sr. and then, probably, Sitting Bull.

        It all goes away if they take the FDR Memorial down. They should replace it with a hot dog stand.

        1. My comment when I visited the FDR memorial: “This thing goes on longer than his adminstration did.”

        2. The FDR one is appalling. We can never do anything simple and tasteful anymore.

          1. We can never do anything simple and tasteful anymore.

            Why should the memorial be any different than anything else DC does?

        3. “I mean, that FDR memorial looks like a memorial to socialism.”

          So was FDR’s adminstration.

        4. The United States government is a memorial to FDR’s socialism–why the redundant monument?

          1. I would like a Steve Rogers memorial as well.

        5. I want a memorial to Joshua Norton

    3. WRT Jefferson Monument’s emphasis on his presidency, Jefferson’s own list of his chief accomplishments is on his epitaph at Montecello: 1) author of the Declaration of Independence; 2) author of the statute of Virginia for religious freedom; 3) father of the University of Virginia. He didn’t bother mentioning his presidency.

      Nothing about DC warms this libertarian’s heart. All of the monuments inspire worship of government; King’s monument just celebrates a new prophet in the religion of state-worship.

  18. Walking away from it only half-finishes seems like a total dick move.

    “Nice statue ya gots dere- shame it might never get finished…”

    1. Maybe he just had a really big ass.

  19. Seriously [i]Reason[/i], this was not a typo or some kind of out of context quote. They simply carved the wrong image of Jesse Jackson into the statue.

  20. Actually I completely disagree with the premise of all of this.

    There is no error here. This is not an error. And the quote reflects very much what Dr. King was saying in his 5000-word speech (a portion of which was played as sort of a self-eulogy at his funeral).

    I had that speech on tape and I’ve listened to it hundreds of times and his argument was that the drum major instinct is a “good instinct if you use it right”. He was encouraging people to seek to be great, but to direct that greatness in love and generosity and moral excellence. He didn’t specifically address self-aggrandizement, but one could infer that he was for it in the right circumstances, which would be if the aggrandizer’s aims were true and just.

    So I’m fine with that quote on the statue and completely dispute the notion that the speech it was based on was about “the ills of self-promotion” or so. It was not. It presented some examples of things people shouldn’t strive for – fame, fortune, etc. – but it offered up areas where it was appropriate to seek to be ostentatiously and openly great. Like visiting prisons and helping the poor and downtrodden.

    And he closes by saying the he hoped to be thought of as great, and he hoped that people would say he was a drum major for justice.

    The quote may be imprecise in that it doesn’t include the bit about “if you want to say” I was a drum major… but it is not inaccurate, and it in fact reflects pretty accurately what he was saying in that speech.

    Go read the speech. It’s been misinterpreted by the Post column-writer.

    1. But…but…Maya Angelou was also offended by the quote, and she’s got street cred.

    2. Anyone ever call you a drum major for dorks?

  21. How hard could it be to change an “I” to a “HE”. About 1 hour of chiseling ought to do it.

  22. I think it looks like one of those terracotta warrior statues from China.

    My first reaction was that it looks exactly like a giant “Socialist Realism” style statue. Its a freakin’ miracle he’s not wearing a Mao suit.

    And, of course, its scale and concept are completely out of place on the mall.

    What a hideous wart on the National Mall this is.

  23. Another tidbit: the King family foundation got paid around $800,000(!) for the right to construct this and for consulting fees.

    1. The content of the King kids’ character is pathetic. They are hated and ridiculed in Atlanta.

      Greedy. Fucking. Bastards. All.

    2. Who said he wasn’t a politician?

  24. The whole speech, in fact, is about the evils of self-promotion.

    Jesus was the same way.

    But fuck’ em. They’re both dead and now can be exploited for hate and profit and they can’t stop anyone.

  25. It’s too bad MLK never said “Monuments are nothing but a bird’s toilet.”

  26. The real question is did we outsource the carbon freezing process to Bespin? That wasn’t part of the original deal!

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