Ann Althouse is a quirky, well-respected blogger, a Wisconsin law professor who is liable to write wittily and perceptively about anything from dogs to politics from her barely right of center political perspective. Recently she banned all comments from her blog, meaning that she now pontificates without the safety net of informed readers being available to tell her when she’s jumped the track of rationality, which, without exception, we all do. This means that on the rare occasions that the erudite and perceptive Ms. Althouse is full of beans, there is no way to let her or anyone else know.
So I’m letting her know.
For some reason, Althouse is indignant over the $800,000 the Interior Department is spending to erase the incorrect quote negligently carved into the Martin Luther King Memorial. She writes with a sneer,
“Martin Luther King said “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness,” which we will remember, even through it’s now off the memorial. It’s off the memorial because, in the “drum major” speech, there were some other words around it — as is always the case with snappy lines in speeches — and Maya Angelou and others felt some shades of subtlety were lost, making the man sound arrogant.“
I wrote two posts on the fiasco surrounding the inscription, and I have no idea what Althouse was thinking when she posted this. The quote isn’t taken out of context, and we shouldn’t remember it, because Martin Luther King never said, or meant, any such thing. The quote wasn’t a quote. It was a crude and badly conceived attempt to manufacture an impressive-sounding quote that would fir neatly on the limited space available by compressing and distorting what King actually said, which was different in meaning and tone:
“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.”
Martin Luther King beautifully expressed as many memorable and significant thoughts as any American. To manufacture a self-congratulatory quote he did not say as part of his permanent memorial in Washington, D.C. would be an insult to his memory and important to our history.
Furthermore, Maya Angelou didn’t “feel some shades of subtlety were lost”—she objected to the national memorial to Dr. King representing that he said something he never said. Now, as I pointed out in my original post on the topic, Angelou was as responsible as anyone for the botched inscription, as she was on the committee chosen to choose the text for the statue and couldn’t be bothered to take her duty seriously until after the inscription was engraved in the rock. Still she was right, and the Department of the Interior was absolutely right to fix the error, as it would have fixed the Lincoln or Jefferson Memorials if the famous quotes on those landmarks had been incorrectly edited, distorted or misquoted.
Althouse ends her post by calling the episode an “abysmal phony outrage, toadying obeisance to Angelou, and an atrocious waste of money.” Again, I can’t imagine what momentary absence of her usual good judgment would provoke such a statement. The $800,000 is a indeed a waste of money, but the money was wasted when the incompetent committee stupidly approved a bad and incorrect quote to represent one the most eloquent of the nation’s heroes. The outrage wasn’t phony, it was completely justified. As for Angelou, though she is partially accountable for the error occurring, she was still right to blow the whistle on it, and to make sure the inscription was erased.
Althouse’s analysis of the situation was misleading, factually wrong, and unfair. I would have been happy to let her know in a comment rather than here, but Ann doesn’t allow comments. I guess she would rather have her mistake just hang out there in cyberspace forever, like, say, the misquoted words of a great man, engraved in rock to insult his memory for centuries.