— Martin Luther King, Jr. American clergyman, activist, and leader in the American Civil Rights Movement 1929 - 1968
Context: Every now and then I guess we all think realistically about that day when we will be victimized with what is life's final common denominator — that something we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death, and I think about my own funeral. And I don't think of it in a morbid sense. Every now and then I ask myself, "What is it that I would want said?" And I leave the word to you this morning.
If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don't want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, that isn't important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards, that's not important. Tell him not to mention where I went to school.
I'd like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
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. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I want to say.
Paraphrased on the Stone of Hope in the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington, DC as "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness." (Rachel Manteuffel, "Martin Luther King a drum major? If you say so." http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/martin-luther-king-a-drum-major-if-you-say-so/2011/08/25/gIQAmmUkeJ_story.html The Washington Post, 25 August 2011) The monument plans used a correct and contextualized quote, but the lead architect and the sculptor altered it to use fewer words for visual appearance. (Rachel Manteuffel, "Correcting the Martin Luther King memorial mistake", http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/mlk-memorials-drum-major-quote-will-be-corrected-interior-secretary-says/2012/01/13/gIQAnjYvwP_story.html The Washington Post, 13 January 2012)