Welcome to another episode of “Bad Editing”

Sincerely, if you want to see a demonstration of the consequences of tone deaf editing than check out this link.  This is all due to my friend Rachel Manteuffel, who was walking home from work one day and happened to pass by the new MLK memorial on the National Mall. She noticed one of the quotes carved into the granite just didn’t seem right. She wrote an op-ed column about it, and today, the Secretary of the Interior announced that the quote would be changed. Here’s the context:

In a 1968 sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church King told a biblical story of James and John, who ask Jesus for the most prominent seats in heaven. He said that this was an example of the  ‘‘drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade.’’  It was that desire, he warned, that could lead to ‘‘snobbish exclusivism’’ and from there to  ‘‘tragic race prejudice.’’

‘‘Do you know that a lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct? A need that some people have to feel superior . . . ”

Imagining his own funeral, King said he didn’t want to be remembered for all the things that set him apart, like the Nobel Peace Prize he had won, or the accolades  of world leaders. He had no interest, he said, in being remembered as a drum major. Instead, King asked to be remembered as someone who ‘‘tried to give his life serving others’.’

He concluded: ‘Yes, 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.’’

Someone charged with editing material for the memorial, which was only going to be CARVED IN STONE, decided that quote would be a great summation of his life. Only it was impossible to carve such a long quote in the granite. So here’s what some public servant came up with as a condensed version:

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

Nice work!


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