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MLK Memorial May Not Be Ready For Anniversary

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An abbreviated quotation inscribed on the side of the statue will soon be removed. (credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

An abbreviated quotation inscribed on the side of the statue will soon be removed. (credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON — Work to refinish part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial where a disputed inscription was recently removed may not be done until after the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

Executive architect Ed Jackson Jr. told The Associated Press on Monday that a disagreement arose over the past 10 days over how to sandblast and refinish the stone where an inscription was recently chiseled away.

The side of the memorial’s “Stone of Hope” has been left unfinished because the main contractor, Worcester Eisenbrandt Inc. of Baltimore, doesn’t have insurance to complete the sandblasting with steel pellets, the way it was originally created, Jackson said.

There are color differences now where words were removed, and a slight yellow stain was left on the stone Friday 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.”

Sculptor Lei Yixin, who created the memorial, traveled from China to do the corrective work and plans to return home Aug. 20.

Lei told AP that sandblasting was always a crucial piece of the project, and he did not know 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 officials agree the work must be done, but it may have to be part of a new contract because of government rules.

The project may have to stop for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on Aug. 28 when commemorative events are expected to draw big crowds. Scaffolding would be taken down around the monument, and work would resume later, she said.

“We are committed to going forward in the way Master Lei wants to go forward,” Johnson said. “It’s just a question of what’s the best way and the quickest way to get this done.”

It was not clear how the sandblasting process that was used to create the memorial more than two years ago was left out of the contract.

Jackson said part of the problem was there was never full agreement with the National Park Service on the process outlined by Lei. He said the foundation that built the memorial felt the park service was choosing the wrong contractor to remove the disputed inscription.

The Park Service said the project requirements were not clear.

“We certainly didn’t know that this is what was going to be necessary until the process had already started,” Johnson said. “Otherwise it would have been in the contract.”

The agency is still working to finish the project before Lei leaves for China, Johnson said. It is seeking approval to have the work done by the agency’s Historic Preservation Training Center, “under the watchful eye of Master Lei,” she said.

That could allow the project to be completed before the 50th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

On Monday, the work site was quiet. Scaffolding wrapped by a white material covered both sides of King’s statue, including the area where the inscription was removed.

The now-removed 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 the quotation was taken out of context when it was paraphrased and shortened. Angelou said it made King sound arrogant.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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