The completion of the memorial appeared in jeopardy when King's children demanded payment for the use of King's likeness and quotes. The resulting conflict marred the completion and dedication of the memorial in ways many historians claimed would have deeply concerned the slain civil rights leader.
The statue of King originally included a paraphrased quote by King that also led to controversy. Maya Angelou petitioned for the removal of the phrase I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness from the side of the statue of King, for two main reasons. First, the paraphrased quote was not accurate and lacked the full context of the longer quote. Second, many activists and historians believed that the paraphrased quote, without any context or background, supported the impression that King was egotistical. Defenders of the original statue design explained that they had edited King's quote so that it better fit on the side of the statue. In 2012, the Secretary of the Interior ordered the removal of the quote.