As a botched inscription is removed, the civil-rights leader's statue in D.C. also deserves reappraisal.
When the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened in Washington, D.C., there were immediate objections to a quotation inscribed on his statue. An utterance that King had spoken in humility had been edited to read as a statement of conceit: "I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness."
The stone likeness of King was similarly condemned. A "failure," wrote Edward Rothstein in the New York Times in August 2011. "The memorial could be vastly improved by simply removing the statue," opined Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post.
Thanks to a recent decision by the secretary of the interior, workers will soon return to the memorial and erase the botched inscription. The critics' aesthetic derision should also be revisited, for it, too, could stand correcting. A discerning eye is one thing; the skeptics' blind eye is quite another. And the dismissive appraisals miss compelling elements that argue in favor of a much more charitable assessment of the 30-foot stone sculpture.
Of course, apart from the poor reviews and errant paraphrasing, there is no question that the memorial had a star-crossed start. There was (among other things) controversy over the sculptor, Lei Yixin, who was neither black nor American; his workers, who were non-union and apparently uncompensated; and the large financial payment demanded by King's family for the right to portray him. To top it off, inclement weather scuttled the memorial's official unveiling.