Day of Honor


Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the National Mall Memorial

For the first time Monday, the public was able to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day at his namesake memorial on the National Mall. Visitors sang "Happy Birthday" and laid wreaths to commemorate the life of the civil-rights hero.

A small group of attendees sang Happy Birthday to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday at the base of the statute built in his honor on the National Mall. The celebration was the first commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day since the memorial opened last year. As the group segued into “This Little Light of Mine,” more of the crowd that gathered to honor the man joined in the singing. Officials and political leaders, including the Reverend Al Sharpton, also held a brief ceremony at the memorial.

The fact that a serious flaw in the memorial’s design is on the verge of being fixed was also cause for celebration. The quotation "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness,” is engraved on the right side of Martin Luther King Jr.’s statue. However, King never said those words. The full quote reads: “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,” a far more inspirational statement without the abbreviation. Stephen Colbert poked fun at the misguided Cliff Notes-version of the quotation, saying, “Brevity is the soul of saving money on chiseling fees.” Maya Angelou told The Washington Post soon after the memorial opened in August 2011, “The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit. He was anything but that. He was far too profound a man for that four-letter word to apply.”

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has given the National Park Service 30 days to consult with the memorial foundation in order to come up with an alternative quotation, so by next January the memorial will be an even more fitting place to remember Dr. King’s contributions to our country and civil rights.