A quote on the 30-foot-tall statue paraphrases King’s 1968 sermon at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church by saying, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” However, the 83-year-old Angelou said the quote is taken out of context and makes King “look like an arrogant twit.” “It makes him seem less than the humanitarian he was…He would never have said that of himself.”
King's original statement reads as follows: “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.” Angelou feels the “if” clause is most important and that leaving it out completely changes the quote’s meaning.
Planners of the memorial, which depicts King with his arms folded and seemingly emerging from a huge block of stone, intended to use more of the original quote but had to shorten it when there was no longer enough space, AP reports. While the paraphrase and memorial design was ultimately approved by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, Angelou thinks the saying should be changed.
While Angelou was a part of the memorial’s Council of Historians, in charge of selecting the inscriptions, she reportedly did not attend any of the meetings, said executive architect Ed Jackson Jr.
To read more about the memorial quote debate, click here.