WASHINGTON — A Chinese sculptor has removed a disputed inscription from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial statue that he designed on the National Mall and said Thursday that he is working on a new finish for the side of the artwork.

Plans call for sculptor Lei Yixin to carve grooves over the former words to match existing horizontal "striation" marks in the memorial. Lei said he is working to deepen all the memorial's grooves so that they will match.

The disputed inscription was a paraphrase from King's "Drum Major" speech. It read, "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness."

Critics, including the poet Maya Angelou, argued that the quotation was taken out of context when it was paraphrased and shortened. Angelou said it made King sound arrogant.

Lei said the corrective work was going well and is on track to finish before commemorations of the 50th anniversary of King's "I Have A Dream" speech at the March on Washington on Aug. 28.

"The difficulty is the new striations – so they won't damage the integrity of the statue itself," Lei said through an interpreter.

Lei said there was not a high probability, though, of the new carvings causing any cracks.

"It's not a big problem because the striations are designed to appear on the sides," he said. "If it has some cracks, we could deal with them."

Lei said he heard about King when he was growing up in China. He called King a "world-class hero" who was well-known in China and said it was an honor to create the statue.

"Right now, as we see, the statue looks really good," he said through his son, who served as an interpreter. "He thinks Americans would not regret picking him as the sculptor."

More than 5.2 million people visited the memorial last year, according to the National Park Service.

National Mall Superintendent Robert Vogel said the work should be completed a few days before commemorations of the March on Washington anniversary between Aug. 24 and Aug. 28.

"The response to the memorial has been overwhelmingly positive" since it was completed, Vogel said. "People have come and wept at the base of the statue. I think people have seen it as a great work of art and a great addition to the National Mall."

The changes will cost between $700,000 and $800,000, Vogel said. The work will be paid for from funds raised to build the memorial that were transferred to the National Park Foundation for repairs and maintenance.

No taxpayer dollars will be used to make the repairs, Vogel said.

The removal of an inscription or piece of a memorial is rare in Washington, but debate and controversy often accompanies every memorial construction project.

This situation was unusual in that the shortened version of the inscription was not formally approved by two panels that oversee architecture and design in the nation's capital, Vogel said. Angelou also served on a panel of historians who recommended this memorial's inscriptions.

Harry Johnson, who led the group that built the memorial, said he was pleased everyone had agreed on a solution.

"There's controversy every time you build a memorial," he said. "I can't explain it. All I can say is we're here to take care of it and make sure it's done correctly."

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Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial: http://www.nps.gov/mlkm

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Follow Brett Zongker on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DCArtBeat

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  • Sculptor Master Lei Yixin surveys the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, Monday, July 29, 2013, to prepare for removal of the “Drum Major” inscription. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

  • Sculptor Master Lei Yixin, left, surveys the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, Monday, July 29, 2013, to prepare for removal of the “Drum Major” inscription.

  • Scaffolding surrounds the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial as work continues to remove a controversially paraphrased quote on the side of the monument on the National Mall in Washington, DC, July 26, 2013. Critics said the quote took King's words out of context and made him appear arrogant. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB

  • Scaffolding surrounds the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial as work continues to remove a controversially paraphrased quote on the side of the monument on the National Mall in Washington, DC, July 26, 2013. Critics said the quote took King's words out of context and made him appear arrogant. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB

  • Scaffolding surrounds the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial as work continues to remove a controversially paraphrased quote on the side of the monument on the National Mall in Washington, DC, July 26, 2013. Critics said the quote took King's words out of context and made him appear arrogant. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB

  • Scaffolding surrounds the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial as work continues to remove a controversially paraphrased quote on the side of the monument on the National Mall in Washington, DC, July 26, 2013. Critics said the quote took King's words out of context and made him appear arrogant. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB

  • People take pictures by where fencing has been placed around the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, Monday, July 22, 2013, in preparation to remove the "Drum Major” inscription from the memorial. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

  • Mike Walls and Kim Reams, right, visiting from Louisville, Ky., pause to take a photo at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, Monday, July 22, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is seen in Washington, Monday, July 22, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)



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  • "We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

  • "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."

  • "I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."

  • "Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in."

  • "I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as a moral example of the world."

  • "If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective."

  • "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

  • "I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits."

  • "It is not enough to say, 'We must not wage war.' It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace."

  • "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

  • "Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies."

  • "We are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

  • "We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience."

  • "True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice."