By David Pendered
A statue of Martin Luther King Jr. will be installed on the frontage of the Georgia state capitol if lawmakers approve a bill filed by state Rep. Tyrone Brooks.
Brooks said Monday the King statue could be placed on the same spot from which the statue of Tom Watson was recently moved. Any site along that west side of the front of the Capitol would be appropriate, Brooks said.
“We take the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for granted, and I think it’s time we recognize him with a statue of the grounds of the capitol, in the city where he was born just five blocks away,” Brooks said.
Brooks, an Atlanta democrat and lifelong civil rights worker, said the time has arrived to erect a statue of King at Georgia’s capitol. The timing is appropriate in light of three golden anniversaries of the civil rights movement:
- 1963: The March on Washington, and its message of jobs and freedom.
- 1964: Passage of the Civil Rights Act, which desegregated public institutions and outlawed employment discrimination.
- 1965: Passage of the Voting Rights Act, which was the legislation authorized by the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to protect the right to vote regardless of, “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
The political campaign to win support of the proposal to erect a statue of King will be waged much like the effort to change the state flag, said Brooks, who was a persistent and consistent voice to change the flag following his election to the state House in 1980.
“We’re going to energize the people of this state to contact their representatives and senators, the governor and lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House,” Brooks said. “That’s the way you will see a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. come to the frontage of the state Capitol.”
Brooks said he cannot predict the bill’s reception when the legislature convenes Jan. 13, 2014.
“You never know,” Brooks said. “It took us 20 years to change the flag, 10 years to remove Tom Watson. These things can happen immediately, or be a long, drawn-out process. I may be dead and gone.
“But whenever it happens, it will happen.”
Brooks filed House Bill 706 without fanfare on Dec. 12, and is the only signer. The bill proposes to add a brief section to an area of state law that relates to the state flag, seal, and other symbols:
- “There shall be placed upon the capitol grounds at the steps leading to the front entrance of the state capitol building or in another prominent position a statue of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
- “Unless public safety concerns warrant postponement, such monument shall be procured and placed as soon as practicable.”
King is now honored at the state Capitol through a portrait painting that has hung in various locations on the second floor. Then-Gov. Jimmy Carter brought in the first King portrait, in 1973, Brooks said. Then-Gov. Roy Barnes had King’s portrait displayed in front of the governor’s office. King’s portrait later was moved to its current site in the Capitol’s north wing.
Brooks said he hopes the artist who creates the statue for the capitol will consider the memorial installed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Another potential site at the capitol is near the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Washington Street, near the monument of John Brown Gordon astride his horse, Marye.
A competing proposal for a monument of the Ten Commandments to be located at the old Watson site has been filed by state Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia). Such displays are legal in Georgia following a 2012 amendment to a state law so it now authorizes displays related to “The Foundations of American Law and Government Display.”
“Dr. King’s work changed America and Atlanta, and he changed the world,” Brooks said. “People all around the world look at his work and say, ‘The King model is one I can use in my neighborhood to make the place where we live a better place.”