The memorial's executive architect, Ed Jackson Jr., is also interviewed. He acknowledges Maya Angelou's greatness, says he owns some of her books, and that the quote was changed to a paraphrase based on time constraints.
"The statement that she made was very colorful and it attracted the attention of the reader and that's what writers are supposed to do. But I'm in the business of architecture and when we are faced to make design decisions, we have to do so with respect to a number of factors
- size of letters,
- font style.
The message had to be communicated succinctly and then allow the visitor to come around and face Dr. King and have that once in a lifetime experience."He goes on to talk about the other inscriptions at the monument and how this one isn't going to overpower all the others. (You can listen to him at the NPR audio - starting at 1:28)
My initial reaction to architect Jackson was not positive. Font? Depth? Did he really say all those things? Was he serious? Yes, those are factors, but his job is to make all those things work, not to use them as an excuse to rewrite the words of the man he's honoring.
I visited the Martin Luther King memorial on the Tidal Basin Tuesday.
Now that I've seen the memorial, I have no sympathy for Jackson whatsoever. He just botched it big time. Who is he to change King's words? "Well," he might say, "the symmetry would be better if we left some of his qualifiers out." (I'm not going to even discuss what was changed and how it affected the meaning. You can go to the NPR post to see that.)
His idea about seeing those words just before seeing the statue itself? Well, we came to the statue along the path where the cherry trees line the Tidal Basin, so we saw the statue before we saw the quotes.
OK, here's the main statue of King.
Behind it is the official entrance through 'the mountains.' But, as I said, we came from the Tidal Basin side. On the left (as you look at the statue in the picture above) are the words "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope."
Then on the right side (facing the statute) is the controversial edited quote.
To put this into a different context, at the nearby Lincoln Memorial the wall to the right of Lincoln has three panels with Lincoln's Second Inaugural Speech.
On the left side (facing Lincoln) is the Gettysburg Address. It's only one panel. But that didn't cause the designer's of the Lincoln Memorial to edit the 2nd Inaugural to match the Gettysburg Address.
If it's good enough for Lincoln, I'd say it's ok for Martin Luther King, Jr.
I usually try to see the different sides of a controversy and to understate the situation and let the readers come to their own conclusions. But in this case it is so completely clear that the architect Jackson's defense of his rewriting of King's words is just mealy mouthed weaseling to justify the unjustifiable. He was so consumed with his technical issues, that he completely missed the much bigger issue. This is a monument to MLK, and MLK's original words, in context, and not some abbreviated version to 'fit' what Jackson thought was the proper visual style.
Oh yes, the other quotes. They're good. And the wall they are on shows us how much influence Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial Wall has influenced how we think of memorials.
Here are a couple of the quotes that it would do us well to consider and discuss regularly.
Of course, there's always the possibility that I missed something. That he gave NPR a much better reason than font size and distance etc. for what he did it. But it really sounds like damage control.