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Repairs to King Memorial May Not Be Finished Before March Anniversary Next Week

photo credit: NewsHour

Confusion and poor planning surrounding the removal of a controversial quote from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial may mean the work won’t be finished before the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington next weekend.

It appears that the contractor doing the repair work, Worcester Eisenbrandt Inc. of Baltimore, doesn’t have insurance to complete the sandblasting with steel pellets the way it was originally created, executive architect Ed Jackson Jr. told the Associated Press yesterday. The disagreement that arose over the past 10 days over how to sandblast and refinish the stone means the side of the memorial’s “Stone of Hope” has been left unfinished and there are color differences now where words were removed.

On Friday, a slight yellow stain was left on the stone when workers tried an alternate process, using walnut shells to blast the stone.

“It looks unfinished,” Jackson said. “The artist is furious about leaving his work unfinished.”

The sculptor, Lei Yixin, who created the memorial, came back to Washington from China to do the corrective work; he plans to return home Aug. 20.

Sandblasting was always a crucial piece of the project, and Lei said he didn’t understand how it was left out of the National Park Service’s contract.

“All we have done is kind of physical damage to the sculpture because we chiseled the inscription out,” Lei said through his son, Ke Shi, who interpreted. “The sandblasting is a way to restore the damaged surface to make those damaged surfaces look uniform with the rest of it.”

National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson said the work may have to be part of a new contract because of government rules. But she disagreed with the architect and sculptor that it looked unfinished, saying the stain wasn’t noticeable.

“It will look good” for the anniversary, she said.

She said the agency did not realize that Lei had planned to use the sandblasting technique.

“The bottom line is it was not in the contract,” she said, “and so it kind of ties our hands.”

The Park Service has asked its in-house preservation center to do the blasting and stain removal, in hopes that the work can be completed before Lei leaves next Tuesday. If the preservation crew isn’t available, the agency will try to modify the contract or secure a new agreement for the remaining repairs, and then bring Lei back to the United States.

“We don’t have a lot of time, but we’re going to try,” Johnson said.

The offending phrase on the sculpture came from King’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon and it read, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”

The quotation drew criticism from many, including famed poet Angelou, because they believed it changed the true nature of King’s meaning.

The actual quotation, from a sermon King delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta two months before his April 1968 assassination, was the following: “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.”

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