Park Service Gives Update on MLK Memorial Work

A phrase set in stone isn't permanent after all.

The National Park Service and sculptor Lei Yixin held a Q&A session Thursday morning to discuss how they're removing a disputed inscription from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall.

Lei and his crew are carving grooves over the lettering to match existing marks in the King sculpture. The technique will essentially erase the inscription, News4's Richard Jordan reported Thursday.

Lei, who does not speak English, had his son translate for him during the Q&A session. "The new striations, because we replaced the old instription with movement lines, or striations, the new striations are deeper and have darker color," he said.

The inscription is a paraphrase from King's "Drum Major'' speech. It reads, "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness."

The quote was paraphrased so that it would fit on the north side of the statue, but critics, including the poet Maya Angelou, have argued that the quotation was taken out of context and makes King sound arrogant. 

"The history of every memorial, I can't think of one here on the National Mall that hasn't in some way elicited some controversy," said Bob Vogel, National Mall superintendent.

Lei recommended removing the inscription to avoid compromising the monument's structural integrity, rather than cutting into the granite to replace it with a fuller quotation.

Removing the inscription retains the integrity of the artwork, Lei said.

The design was inspired by a line from King's "I Have a Dream" speech: "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope." That message is inscribed on the other side of the sculpture and will remain.

The work is expected to continue for the next few weeks, but the Park Service says it should all be finished by Aug. 24, when celebrations begin for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, which was held Aug. 28, 1963.


Copyright AP - Associated Press
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