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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

He said, he said

Further proff, if anybody still needs it, that we live in a culture that sometimes values style over substance, the symbolic over the real, the aesthetic over the functional, appearances over meaning . . . well, you get the idea. After a prolonged controversy over an abbreviated quote on the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, the National Park Service has announced it will replace the abridgment ("I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness") with the full quote -- "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.”

It seems not everyone is pleased with the decision:

Harry Johnson is the president and CEO of the Martin Luther Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation. He says in a statement that he's disappointed the King family and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made a "unilateral decision" to change the memorial.

He says the new plan will "threaten the design, structure and integrity" of the monument. The project's architect has taken a similar position, saying new granite added to the memorial would be a noticeably different color.

I work in a profession in which we're always aware of how easy it is to distort people's meanings by  paraphrasing them or not quoting them in full context. How can you threaten the "integrity" of a memorial that makes King seem to say something he didn't really say. As the Washington Post notes ina an editorial, "It is vital to remember that Dr. King’s point was about the perils of “the drum-major instinct” — the desire to seem important and get attention for oneself — and that the instinct should be secondary to the change one wants to make in the world. The difference between Dr. King’s quote and Mr. Jackson’s excerpt — a warning about the desire to boast, versus an actual boast — is precisely the lesson needed here."

When we distort someone's meaning in a newspaper story, it has a shelf life of about a day, till the next edition comes out. But a distortion on something this big would end up in the history books, diminishing our understanding of an important figure and the time he lived in. That's how so much bad history gets taught. The "design, structure and integrity" of a monument just don't stack up to that.