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Sunday Late Night: “Carved in Stone” Bites the Dust

Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial (photo: michaelhyman300/flickr)

Another American cliche bites the dust, thanks to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (who hasn’t done a lot I like until this). Faced with overwhelming outrage, voiced eloquently and led by poet Maya Angelou, over a misleading and truncated quote of the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr carved into his national memorial on the Mall, Secretary Salazar decided that “carved in stone” needn’t mean irrevocably permanent, when a wrong has been done.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told The Post today that the quote will be corrected. He has given the National Park Service 30 days — because “things only happen when you put a deadline on it” — to consult with the King Memorial Foundation, family members and other interested parties and come up with a more accurate alternative.

“This is important because Dr. King and his presence on the Mall is a forever presence for the United States of America, and we have to make sure that we get it right,” Salazar said.

This isn’t only a victory for Maya Angelou and MLK’s son, Martin Luther King III, who said, “That’s not what Dad said.” It’s also a victory for Stephen Colbert:

Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert noted that it was “to the point. Not Dr. King’s point, but still. Brevity is the soul of saving money on chiseling fees.”

Here’s what got carved in stone:

“I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness”

Here’s what Dr King actually said:

“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.”

The difference is so great that the excerpted quote, as carved, completely distorts Dr King’s meaning and point, making him seem, as Maya Angelou wrote, “like an arrogant twit.” It’s great news that Secretary Salazar has decided to open the carving up for correction, especially since it went wrong without approval. If words are carved in stone, to ring down the ages, America needs to get them, and their meaning, right.

So much for “carved in stone.”

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