“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.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This is the quote that the inscription originally carved into the side of the Stone of Hope, the thirty foot sculpture that sits on four acres on the National Mall between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials facing the tidal basin in Washington, D.C. that bears King’s likeness, was supposed to convey. However, something got lost in the translation and the paraphrased quote which omitted the “If” was protested by many who thought it significantly changed the meaning of Dr. King’s words and made him sound arrogant. So this statement will be removed from the Stone Of Hope all together.
Inscribed in the side of the Mountain Of Despair, the two mountain shaped structures that sit behind the Stone Of Hope, is the following: “Out Of The Mountain Of Despair, A Stone Of Hope”.
The following fourteen quotes from King line the 450-foot-long granite Inscription Wall that forms a semi-circle around the memorial on either side of the Mountain of Despair:
- “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” (31 March 1968, Washington, DC)
- “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” (1963, Strength to Love)
- “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” (10 December 1964, Oslo, Norway)
- “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” (18 April 1959, Washington, DC)
- “I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as a moral example of the world.” (25 February 1967, Los Angeles, CA)
- “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” (24 December 1967, Atlanta, GA)
- “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” (16 April 1963, Birmingham, AL)
- “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.” (10 December 1964, Oslo, Norway)
- “It is not enough to say “We must not wage war.” It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.” (24 December 1967, Atlanta, GA)
- “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” (25 February 1967, Los Angeles, CA)
- “Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.” (4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York, NY)
- “We are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” (5 December 1955, Montgomery, AL)
- “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.” (16 April 1963, Birmingham, AL)
- “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” (16 April 1963, Birmingham, AL)
None of the quotes are taken from King’s 1965 “I have a dream” speech because the entire design of the memorial itself deliberately reflects elements of that speech.
The official address of the MLK memorial is 1964 Independence Avenue, S.W., commemorating the 1964 signing of the Civil Rights Act. The memorial opened to the public on August 22, 2011, after more than two decades of planning, fund-raising and construction. A ceremony dedicating the memorial was scheduled for Sunday, August 28, 2011, the 48th anniversary of the “I Have A Dream” speech that King delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 but was postponed until October 16 (the 16th anniversary of the 1995 Million Man March on the National Mall) due to Hurricane Irene. Dr. King is the first Black person honored with a memorial on or near the National Mall and only the fourth non-President to be memorialized this way.
The official vision statement for the memorial notes:
Dr. King championed a movement that draws fully from the deep well of America’s potential for freedom, opportunity, and justice. His vision of America is captured in his message of hope and possibility for a future anchored in dignity, sensitivity, and mutual respect; a message that challenges each of us to recognize that America’s true strength lies in its diversity of talents. The vision of a memorial in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. is one that captures the essence of his message, a message in which he so eloquently affirms the commanding tenants of the American Dream – Freedom, Democracy and Opportunity for All; a noble quest that gained him the Nobel Peace Prize and one that continues to influence people and societies throughout the world. Upon reflection, we are reminded that Dr. King’s lifelong dedication to the idea of achieving human dignity through global relationships of well being has served to instill a broader and deeper sense of duty within each of us— a duty to be both responsible citizens and conscientious stewards of freedom and democracy.
Harry E. Johnson, the President and CEO of the memorial foundation, added these words in a letter posted on the memorial’s website:
The King Memorial is envisioned as a quiet and peaceful space. Yet drawing from Dr. King’s speeches and using his own rich language, the King Memorial will almost certainly change the heart of every person who visits. Against the backdrop of the Lincoln Memorial, with stunning views of the Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial, the Memorial will be a public sanctuary where future generations of Americans, regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation, can come to honor Dr. King.
The memorial is the result of a major effort by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the first Black fraternity in the U.S. of which Dr. King was a member, that started in 1968 and took over 40 years and $120 million dollars to bring to fruition.