“The memorial could be vastly improved by simply removing the statue.”

Posted: April 20, 2019 in Uncategorized

“I think it is the most shockingly mangled and abortive monument I can think of.”

–Robert Pogue Harrison, Rosina Pierotti Professor of French and Italian Literature, Stanford University

When the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened in Washington, D.C., there were immediate objections to a quotation inscribed on his statue. An utterance that King had spoken in humility had been edited to read as a statement of conceit: “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.”

The stone likeness of King was similarly condemned. A “failure,” wrote Edward Rothstein in the New York Times in August 2011. “The memorial could be vastly improved by simply removing the statue,” opined Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post.

The podcast above discusses the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the Monument To Women, in Nauvoo, Illionois. Things get really interesting around 40:00.

Dennis Smith and Florence Hansen
Joyful Moment
  1. Aralia Ward says:

    This is particularly interesting to me, I believe I was in third grade at the time and had just learned about Dr. King (of course a very edited version I would later find out). This monument was about to be finished and their was a huge celebration in our class. We read simple news reports and saw the 3-D proposed plans for the statue. What is most interesting though is that I specifically remember reading in my weekly reader about how the plan was to put Dr King quotes on the side and I thought this was a fantastic idea because to me at the time Dr. King was his words. After the statue unveiling I did not give the monument a second thought until today, and honestly it makes me sad that such a good idea was ruined by tying to change history. Let history be what it is. Change the future not the past.

    • I think the issue here goes far beyond the botched inscription, though that certainly does not help. But I can only imagine King’s horror if he were to come back and see himself portrayed as a colossus. And that imperious crossed-arms pose is straight out of the playbook of modern dictators.

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