Recently, a series of monumental events poured into my homethrough the nightly news, starting with the earthquake fromMineral, Va., which caused the Washington Monument to crack, theangels on the spires of the National Cathedral to come crashing tothe ground and the Pentagon to be evacuated.
These events were punctuated by Hurricane Irene scouring up theEast Coast and causing the dedication ceremony of the Martin LutherKing Jr. Memorial to be postponed for fear the downpours (worthy ofthe Red Sea washing over the Egyptian slave drivers while thechosen people were in flight to the promised land) would drown theaudience.
This havoc wreaked by natural disasters is filled with a wrathworthy of angry gods in a Homeric tragedy.
Of course, every rational American knows that the crack in amonument to Washington, angels crashing into concrete and theheadquarters of two wars flooding could not possibly be an omenfrom the gods.
Nevertheless, the voice of the poet Maya Angelou was heardacross America, amidst the cracks and fallen angels of Washington,when she blasted the decision of the architects of the MartinLuther King Jr. Memorial for paraphrasing his original words to fiton the base of his monument with “this makes Dr. Martin Luther Kinglook like an arrogant twit.”
So now instead of:
“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I wasa drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. Iwas a drum major for righteousness. and all the other shallowthings will not matter, …”
“I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”
Angelou is right; without the conditional “if,” MLK comes acrossas a shallow twit. He was not a primping drum major, pumping hisarm before the band in a parade, all too eager to run up on astage, like too too many politicians. He was the voice of freedomringing in this land, proclaiming every American’s right to thesame justice established by the Declaration of Independence. Hestood linked arm in arm with peaceful protesters before swingingpolice clubs, fire hoses and attack dogs.
The paraphrasing of Martin Luther King’s words is symbolic forwhat is happening to America. The MLK monument was outsourced toChina and sculpted from Chinese granite by Lei Yixin. Lei is notedfor carving two statues of Mao Tse-tung, so it is not surprisingthat Yixin has Martin Luther King looking like a stern Maoist, armsfolded defiantly across his chest, rather than a hopeful Baptistminister standing before the Lincoln Memorial, while pointingtoward the Jefferson Memorial as he proclaims what would happenwhen freedom rang in America:
“And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when welet it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every stateand every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all ofGod’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles,Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing inthe words of the old Negro spiritual:
“Free at last! Free at last!
“Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Unlike the Lincoln Memorial, which has the inscriptions of twowell-known speeches by Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address and hisSecond Inaugural Address, King’s memorial does not have his I Havea Dream Speech, which cascaded from the steps of the LincolnMemorial toward the Tidal Pool and the Jefferson Memorial.
Now, instead of standing before Martin Luther King and readingthe I have a Dream speech, a visitor will be greeted with aselection of 13 quotes, most of which are undistinguished,capturing none of the elegance of King’s cadence.
Now we have:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
“We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peacewith itself, a society that can live with its conscience.”
These quotes are a tepid cut and paste job that would only beacceptable in the ever socialistic Europe or the dictatorial China,unless that is now us too.
Washington is cracking and the angels of our better nature havecrashed to the ground.
Tom Martin is the O.K. Bouwsma endowed professor of philosophyat the University of Nebraska at Kearney.