Monday, January 16, 2012

WordGazing: Finally, Justice Will Be Served


The text above is on the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in D.C. Not only is it carved without punctuation, it’s also paraphrased.

Yup. Not really a quote. And not even the gist of the original utterance, which is:

“Yes, 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. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say.”

What’s more, when you think about the abundance of material the highly quotable Dr. King provided us, why in the world was this chosen in the first place?

The truncation was a “design change” according to Ed Jackson Jr., the executive architect. He ran it by the oversight body, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, and they didn’t have a problem with it. Neither did the Council of Historians.

Shame, shame, shame. If space was really an issue, then the solution was not to abbreviate but to choose different material. A quote that’s paraphrased isn’t a quote. Period. PERIOD, screams the editor in me.

I don’t expect architects to understand the problem with this kind of language bastardization, but I certainly expected more from the historians who approved it.

The good news today is that the stone-chiseled text is going to be fixed. Not sure how, but I’m glad someone in D.C. finally saw the light.

Here’s a King quote that speaks to me, that reminds me how to live my life:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

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