“A drum major for justice”: Martin Luther King Jr Day

Today the USA celebrates Martin Luther King Jr Day, a federal holiday to honour the man who helped change America (although not by as much as he would have liked).

The civil rights campaigner would have turned 83 yesterday, had he not been assassinated in April 1968.

The Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington opened to the public some months ago and it has recently been announced that a controversial (mis)quote on one side of the monument is be corrected. The quote features prominently on the monument, as this picture shows:

The line currently reads: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”

King’s original words, from a 1968 sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, were:

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.

Poet Maya Angelou has said that leaving out the “if” changes the meaning and made the civil rights leader appear arrogant.

So what’s your favourite quote from King – what would you like to see replace the faulty “drum major” quote? Any advance on “I have a dream…“?

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  • sliabhluachra

    I have a dream was apparently plagiarsied from Archibald Carey, Jr’ s 1952 speech to the Republican convention . King had form in nicking others’ words, though he was a great public speaker, amongst the best.

    Still, he left his mark. One of our own, Michael Farrell has, I see, been put on the Council of State by MD Higgins. Not a bad move.

  • Kevsterino

    MLK certainly did change things here in the US, and for that I think the world should be grateful. While it is true that we didn’t get through the sixties without violence, I believe without MLK it would have escalated to an entirely different order of magnitude. Had that happened, I’m not sure what sort of society would have emerged.

    As for what quote I would inscribe on the Memorial, I would go with “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” from the Letter from Birmingham Jail.

  • sliabhluachra

    ITV have a documentary on Muhammad Ali on tonight at 10.35 to mark his 70th birthday. Another great human rights fighter who took some flak over his principled stand on Vietnam.

    The USA blacks kept their heads after 1968 (thanks in some small part to RJK’s famous speech). Pity the civil rights movement was hijacked in the 6 cos and led into a cul de sac by the armed nihilism lot.

    Was it James Conn0olly who said aposltles of freedom are ever crucified when living and idolised when dead.

    I watched with some interest the celebrations in Hanoi on the 100th birthday of General Giap who, happily, is still with us. The CP Vn hacks make out he was a fervent disciple of Ho Chi Minh who they in their turn have raised to sainthood. No he wasn’t.

    As regards King’s legacy: too many claim it. A familiar refrain. Speaking of which, check out this:
    Soundtrack for a Revolution


  • I would suggest something from his greatest speech. Maybe just “I have a dream”.

  • Rory Carr

    Pity the civil rights movement was hijacked in the 6 cos and led into a cul de sac by the armed nihilism lot.

    It may have escaped your attention, Sliabhluachra, but the Northern Irish civil rights movement died under a hail of British paratroopers’ bullets on 30 January 1972.

    Unless, of course, that is what you are referring to when you speak of “armed nihilism”.

  • sonofstrongbow

    “the Northern Irish civil rights movement died under a hail of British paratroopers bullets on 30 January 1972.”

    Now there is a quote worthy of engraving in stone. Future generations deserve the opportunity to ridicule such nonsense.

  • Rory Carr

    …and a Mandy Rice-Davies to you too, Strongbow.

  • sonofstrongbow,

    It’s not nonsense. That did essentially kill off the civil rights movement. Perhaps that was the intent of the Government.

  • pauluk

    Just watched a wonderful interview with MLK’s niece. What a great man. And an interesting niece too!

  • pauluk

    Oops, forgot the link. Enjoy!

  • sliabhluachra

    Rory: It may have escaped your notice that the sociasl climbers with bombs, to use Orwell, got the Paras off the hook. Hard to complain about the paras weh nthe pin up boy disappears mothers of ten.
    Regarding King: he was more a Frank Carson kind of guy, It was the way he spoke as much as what he said.

    Regarding quoting him: Is that not to do a Ronnie Reagan on him?

  • sonofstrongbow

    The previous posts of yours that I’ve read lead me to think that you’re a sensible kind of guy. I’m therefore somewhat surprised that you appear to buy into Irish Republican mythology.

    The ‘civil rights’ movement may have started out with laudable aims but it succumbed too quickly to a militant republican agenda. At best the movement’s behaviour could be regarded as naive. However it appeared unconcerned with the ‘recreational’ rioting its protests facilitated in Londonderry.

    It was the movement’s ambivalence to violence from the community it ‘represented’ that “killed” it.

    ‘Bloody Sunday’ and the allegedly criminal behaviour of some paratroopers as the end of peaceful agitation is a lie. Sadly you seem to ignore the murder of police officers in Derry that preceded theSunday march. Again the ‘civil rights’ movement ignored the human rights of Irishmen who happened to wear police uniforms.

    The ‘Downing Street planned it all’ line is straight out of The Big Book of Mopery. Even the obscenely expensive Saville inquiry didn’t indulge that fantasy.

  • I like this one from my colleagues in Amnesty USA – part of a twitter campaign against the death penalty, but equally applicable in many other contexts and places:
    #MLK: “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence.” http://bit.ly/Aiwzo7

  • erewhon

    How about “I never dreamed of the NDAA, SOPA, PIPA, and the Enemy Expatriation Act”