WASHINGTON – It was a celebratory atmosphere at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Sunday as his son helped lay a wreath to honor the legendary civil rights leader’s 83rd birthday.
Martin Luther King III helped lay a wreath at the base of the 32-foot tall statue that dawns the likeness of his father, in a pensive glance across the Tidal Basin, arms folded in his suit, a rolled up sheet of paper in his left hand.
“What we are here saying today not just happy birthday and celebrating. Yes, we’re celebrating the best of what we are, but what me must become,” King said.
After the short speech, his daughter was heard saying, to her iconic grandfather, “Happy Birthday, Papa.”
King was flanked by Texas Rep. Al Green, civil rights activist Dick Gregory and Harry Johnson, president of the King Memorial Foundation.
The crowd was one of which King would be proud. They were of different races, ages and countries.
A woman who came with her 5-year-old grandson from New York said it’s up to Americans to keep King’s message of brotherhood alive.
“It’s still a work in progress, and it could go on forever. But it’s up to us to make sure it moves forward,” she said.
A woman who came from Macon, Ga. with her husband and two young sons said King’s memorial is right at home in the company of those honoring beloved U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.
“He made just as big an impact as some of our presidents, if not more,” she said.
After the celebration, Johnson addressed he controversy surrounding the quote that adorns a side of the granite statue. It’s from King’s 1968 speech “The Drum Major Instinct.”
On the statue, the quote reads: “”I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”
However, the full quote from the sermon reads: “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness.”
It’s been a source of controversy since the memorial was unveiled to the public last October.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has ordered the National Park Service to change the quote within 30 days.
Johnson would not say whether the quote would be restored in its entirety.
“I think that’s a little premature, we’re just looking at now, and seeing can whether or not can it be done, how it could be done, and what should it say,” Johnson said.
King III says he doesn’t necessarily need to see the entire quote displayed within the memorial, he just wants the change to reflect the proper context of his father’s words.
“For generations yet unborn, they may not understand, but I’m sure that when this is done that everyone who comes here will understand who, and what, Martin Luther King, Junior meant in terms of what he said about himself,” King III says.