Obama Says Martin Luther King Memorial Quote Is Call to Service

President Barack Obama said the true meaning of a quote that is being modified on the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial following an uproar is that everyone can be of service.

“I know there’s been a lot of controversy lately about the quote on the memorial,” Obama, the nation’s first black president, said at a service project at a school in Washington in honor of today’s King holiday. “If you look at that speech about Dr. King as a drum major, what he really said was that all of us could be a drum major for service, all of us could be a drum major for justice, and there’s nobody who can’t serve, nobody who can’t help somebody else.”

The inscription on the stone monument reads: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” It has drawn criticism as having been taken out of context and representing only part of a fuller quote. Obama dedicated the King memorial on the national mall in Washington in October.

The actual quote from King during a February 1968 sermon was, “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.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told the Washington Post on Jan. 13 that he had directed the National Park Service to work with the King family and other interested parties to come up with a modification to the quote within 30 days.

‘Do What is Right’

First lady Michelle Obama and daughter Malia joined the president at the service event sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service along with Big Brothers, Big Sisters and Greater D.C. Cares at the Browne Education Campus in Washington. Daughter Sasha didn’t attend.

The president painted a quote from King, “the time is always right to do what is right,” on a wall during the event.

Later the president and the first lady will attend a celebration at the Kennedy Center in Washington honoring King and featuring Grammy Award-winning singer Bobby McFerrin.

Also today, Attorney General Eric Holder defended the administration’s enforcement of the Voting Rights Act in remarks prepared for a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People rally in Columbia, South Carolina. Discrimination continues to harm the rights of voters and “in-person voting fraud is uncommon,” Holder said in the remarks released by his office.

“Making voter registration easier is simply not likely, by itself, to make our elections more susceptible to fraud,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kate Andersen Brower in Washington at kandersen7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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