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Posted at 10:56 AM ET, 08/31/2011

Martin Luther King Jr. memorial is not the only monumental controversy


A brilliant tribute or a monumental mistake? (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
The monument wasn’t sculpted by a black artist, and the stones were shaped in China. Tropical Storm Irene prevented hundreds from making it to the dedication on the Mall. The hopeful visionary looks too stern, too Stalinist in stone. Two of the quotes Martin Luther King Jr. never even said.

The Martin Luther King Jr. memorial has taken more than a decade to come into existence and it has had more than a few criticisms lobbed at it along the way. The latest comes from poet Maya Angelou, who said one of the misquotes “makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit.”

King, however, is not the only recipient of botched work on a monumental scale.

When the Second Inaugural Address was being carved into the Lincoln Memorial, the letter “E” was inadvertently carved instead of an “F.” Although tourists still search for the rumored spelling error, the mistake was fixed almost immediately after the carving, according to the National Park Service.

At Thomas Jefferson’s memorial, the corrections have yet to be made. In the Declaration of Independence etched in stone, the carver wrote “inalienable” even though the final draft uses “unalienable,” and missed several commas and the word “that.” Two years ago, Nic Kristof wrote an op-ed in the New York Times asking that on July 4, it might be nice if someone fixed the errors .

More than 58,000 names have been inscribed on the black granite of the Vietnam Memorial, honoring the men and women who died in the bloody war. Thirty-eight of those names, though, represent men who made it home alive. Their names were mistakenly added because they appeared on a list of greviously wounded and the monument makers thought they had later died. The names were removed from the directory of names, but could not be removed from the granite, Sarah Stewart, a spokeswoman for the memorial fund, said.

On King’s memorial, the Post’s Rachel Manteuffel found one quote had been paraphrased and taken out of context. King’s supposed quote, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness,” is missing a giant “if” clause, making his statement seem self-aggrandizing instead of instructive.

It is this quote that Maya Angelou feels “minimizes the man. ... It makes him seem less than the humanitarian he was.”

The second quote misused on the monument is one King loved but did not originally say. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Theodore Parker, a Bostonian abolitionist and Unitarian minister who King saw as a kindred spirit, said those famous lines, but he’s rarely gotten credit for them.

President Obama chose the quote for an Oval Office rug but also failed to reference Parker. Reporter Jamie Steihm points out that Parker, a champion of social progress, is “neglected in the national narrative he helped to write.”

Although the errors on the other memorials might never be fixed, Manteuffel suggests it’s not too late for King.

“I say, let’s undo the mistake. Let’s get the chisels back out,” she writes. “Let’s remember the words he chose and not let this be one more way we’ve failed King.”

Do you know other memorials that have controversy etched in stone? Let us know the memorial blunders in your neck of the woods using #memorialblunders.

The original post stated that the carver of the Thomas Jefferson wrote “unalienable”. He wrote “inalienable”. Blog posts are subject to errors too! (Though they're easier to fix than marble carvings.)

By  |  10:56 AM ET, 08/31/2011

 
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