Despite fears, King memorial is repaired before anniversary

N.Y. Times News ServiceAugust 19, 2013 

King Memorial

Scaffolding surrounds the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial last week, during work to refinish part of the memorial where a disputed inscription was recently removed.

CAROLYN KASTER/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

— Repairs to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial have been completed, erasing doubts about whether the site would be ready for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech Aug. 28.

The memorial’s sculptor, Lei Yixin, was applying the finishing sealant late last week to an area of the statue of King where a controversial inscription was recently removed, said Carol Johnson, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, which maintains the memorial. The statue’s scaffolding will be removed Saturday morning, and a crew is expected to finish cleaning up the site over the weekend, she said.

“The Park Service is really glad that we were able to come up with a solution, one that doesn’t require Master Lei to come back,” she said.

On Monday, officials warned that repairs might not be completed before the anniversary because of problems arising over how to smooth and finish the area near the statue’s left leg where the inscription was chiseled out Aug. 2. The contractor hired by the Park Service was not insured to blast the affected area using the material preferred by Lei. The issue was resolved when a crew from the Park Service’s self-insured preservation unit smoothed the area Thursday night using a synthetic mineral sand called Jet-Mag that had been successfully tested.

“Master Lei was very happy with it,” Johnson said.

Repair crews tried two smoothing techniques before settling on Jet-Mag. The first method, using pulverized walnut shells, was abandoned after a test left an oily yellow stain on the memorial that had to be chiseled out. A second method using fine glass beads “was good, but not perfect,” Johnson said.

The issue threatened to delay the work beyond the Aug. 28 anniversary, possibly for months, and add thousands of dollars to repair costs.

The timing was critical. Lei is scheduled to leave Washington early this week, and he would not have been able to return to oversee repairs for several months.

The Park Service also let Lei use a sealant on the affected area - as he had when the memorial was built - although the agency generally shuns using sealants, because water and other elements can seep through and get trapped.

The text that was removed - “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness” - truncated a section of King’s “Drum Major Instinct” speech, given Feb. 4, 1968, in Atlanta. Critics said it made him sound arrogant.

In the full quote, King was alluding to his possible eulogy: “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.”

Two months later, he was assassinated in Memphis.

Thousands of visitors are expected in Washington this month for the anniversary of the civil rights march, which drew about 250,000 people to the capital in 1963 and culminated with King’s giving his “I Have a Dream” speech, which envisioned racial equality and harmony.

Civil rights groups have planned a week of events, including a march from the Lincoln Memorial to the King Memorial Aug. 24 and an interfaith service at the site Aug. 28.

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