Today marks the observance of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday (his actual birthday was Jan. 15, 1929). Around the nation, people held parades, read (or, hopefully, re-read) his speeches or just took the day off, which I guess is how most Americans celebrate the memories of those who bravely defied corrupt power.
Here in Wailuku (us Mauitimers celebrated by working on this very paper), we watched one of the shortest celebratory parades I’ve ever seen: maybe 50 people stopped in front of Requests Music at the corner of Market and Main–complete with bagpipers in full costume!–and then they marched all the way to Wailuku Coffee Company (at most, 20 feet away) and then they all went inside. It was epic, though to be honest the parade most likely started someplace else much earlier.
But I thought the best way to honor the memory of one of the greatest Americans of the 20th Century was by quoting from the press release of Hawaii’s own Congresswoman Mazie Hirono (D, 2nd District). Her statement, in my humble opinion, sums up the day best.
“Last year, our nation unveiled the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial on the National Mall,” Hirono said in her Jan. 15 news release. “This monument serves as an inspiration for the country we strive to be.”
Hirono, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Daniel Akaka, should know better (especially since I’m not even close to the first person to point this out – this Archdaily.com story does so quite nicely). Actually, the memorial is actually a monument to our nation’s intellectual laziness. The problem lay with one of the “quotes” from King that is
inscribed in the granite that makes up the monument: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”
King never said that. In fact, he never even thought it. The “quote” is, in fact, a paraphrase from a longer speech King once made–a speech the monument’s designers clearly did not understand. Here are King’s actual words:
“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. Say that I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”
See, what King was actually doing was ridiculing the idea of heroic self-aggrandizement. But considering how silly it is to chisel a denunciation of self-worship into an ostentatious granite statute, it’s probably not so shocking that the memorial’s designers ended up rewriting King’s original words.
Photo: National Park Service