Once again, memes predict real life.
A few months back, it was internet humor chic to misattribute a quote- either a seemingly straight and accurate one or something completely ridiculous- to Martin Luther King after a quote spread like wildfire on social media outlets including Twitter and Facebook. The quote was passed about after the death of Osama Bin Laden, but the words weren’t King‘s.
Pretty soon, parodies were all over pic-sharing sites and aggregators like Reddit, and the joke persisted for a bit. Sadly, life has imitated internet humor with a prominent memorial unveiled featuring a spurious quote from the lauded civil rights leader- only this time, it’s engraved in stone instead of updated via iPhone and comes due to an intentional paraphrase.
King originally said during a sermon:
“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 massive monument is actually engraved with the following truncated quote:
I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.
Which kind of illustrates why the controversy erupted. I mean, why not go all the way and just use, “I was a drum major?” Maya Angelou reacted to the deliberate misquote, huffing:
“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. He had no arrogance at all… He had a humility that comes from deep inside. The ‘if’ clause that is left out is salient. Leaving it out changes the meaning completely.”
Angelou said that the quote “minimizes” King, and added:
“It makes him seem less than the humanitarian he was. . . . It makes him seem an egotist.”