Angelou Says Paraphrased King Quote Is Misleading

Maya Angelou is a poet laureate, so she ought to know a little something about language.

And she made it clear that she doesn't like the language attributed to Martin Luther King that is inscribed in a slab of granite on the north face of the King memorial in Washington D.C. Not at all.

I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness, the inscription reads, taken from King's prophetic "Drum Major Instinct" sermon, which the civil rights leader delivered exactly two months before his assassination.

But Angelou points out that's not exactly what King said.

“The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit,” Angelou, 83, told the Washington Post Tuesday. “He was anything but that. He was far too profound a man for that four-letter word to apply."

The exact quote reads as follows:

“If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice,” King told the congregation at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Feb. 4, 1968. “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.”

The "if you want to say" clause is key, Angelou argued. When told the quote had to be paraphrased for space reasons, Angelou's reply was equally economical: "Too bad."

We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue
Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines
Help us learn more about Philly.com commenters. Click here to take this quick survey.

Comment policy:

Philly.com comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

Please note that comments are monitored by Philly.com staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

Load comments
Continue Reading