This article examines the history of the design of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, dedicated in October 2011. Based on documentary records and original interviews, it uncovers new evidence about the design competition, the design’s oversight by federal commissions and the selection of the inscriptions. The article highlights the consequences of the sponsors’ preference for “universal” and “timeless” themes over King’s radical critique of American society. These choices bring this memorial to a civil rights leader into line with political conservatives’ advocacy of “color-blind” government action.