By Maria Saporta

As much as I have admired and revered the late Martin Luther King Jr., I do not believe we should place his statue on the front lawn of Georgia’s State Capitol.

Several civil rights leaders have come out in support of placing a statue of King on the site that was left vacant when the statue of the controversial Tom Watson was recently moved. On Friday, Jan. 10, leaders of the SCLC joined state legislators calling for placing a statue of King at the front entrance of the State Capitol.

There are two reasons why I do not favor that proposal.

First, I believe there are more appropriate spots for a statue of King in Atlanta.

And second, we have a Georgia leader who belongs to stand tall on the front lawn of the State Capitol — the only Georgian to become president of the United States — our former governor — Jimmy Carter.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter

Let’s start with my first point. The connection between King and the State Capitol is a stretch at best. That was not his stomping ground, and it was not friendly territory for King and his followers. The civil rights movement really gained traction within cities and with the federal government — but not at the state level.

If there is to be a statue of King to be erected in Atlanta, there are at least two ideal locations that would speak to who he was and what he meant to our city and the world.

  1. A King statue would be a wonderful addition to Auburn Avenue near Ebenezer Baptist Church, the crypt and the King Center as well as the National Park Service’s historic district, which includes his birth home.
  2. Or a King statue could welcome visitors to the soon-to-open National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which will always have a collection of his papers on display. The Center, located next to the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola, would guarantee maximum exposure for the role King played in our city.
King statue on the Morehouse College campus (Photo credit: Morehouse College Alumni)
King statue on the Morehouse College campus (Photo credit: Morehouse College Alumni)

An earlier version of this story called for a King statue to be located on the Morehouse College campus. I should have already known that the only King statue in Georgia is already adorning the Morehouse campus in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel. Thank you to our astute readers who pointed that out to us.

That said, when it comes to the statue that belongs at the most prominent spot on the grounds of the State Capitol, there is no better choice than former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

I can’t imagine a better person to take the place where Tom Watson used to stand. Watson started out as populist in the late 1800s and then became a white supremacist who was anti-black, anti-Jew and anti-Catholic.

Gov. Nathan Deal had the Tom Watson statue moved to a site across the street so the state could make repairs to the State Capitol’s steps. The relocation of the statue followed years of requests by some legislators to remove it from the front of the Capitol.

Before starting his political career, Carter served as a U.S. Naval officer as well as a peanut farmer, living in Plains.

Existing statue of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter at State Capitol which could be moved to a more prominent location
Existing statue of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter at the State Capitol, which could be moved to the more prominent location where the Tom Watson statue once stood

Carter entered politics by serving two terms as a Georgia State Senator — from 1963 to 1967 — and one term as the 76th governor of Georgia — from 1971 to 1975. He then decided to run for president, although Carter was viewed as a long-shot — even by voters in Georgia.

But the “peanut farmer from Georgia” defied the odds and became the 39th President of the United States — from 1977 to 1981. Although his tenure as president was checkered and controversial — leading to his re-election defeat in 1980, Carter re-invented himself when he left office.

Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, founded the Carter Center in 1982 — spending their subsequent years conducting peace negotiations, observing elections, advancing disease prevention and eradication. They also became the most prominent advocates and volunteers for the Habitat for Humanity International.

Many people have described Carter as the best post president in the United States.

Because of all his contributions to the causes of world peace, global health and human rights, Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. Although there are other Nobel Laureates with ties to Georgia, Carter is the only living, full-time Georgia resident who has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

For all these reasons, a statue in Carter’s honor should be placed in a prominent location on the grounds of the State Capitol. Even though all the top leaders at the Capitol happen to be held by Republicans right now, and Carter was a southern Democrat, the role he has played in Georgia’s history rises above partisan politics.

Carter — the only Georgian to become president of the United States and the only living Georgian who has won a Nobel Peace Prize  — belongs at the front door of our Capitol.

Meanwhile, let’s honor Martin Luther King Jr. during the birthday holiday week — knowing that he also deserves to have a statue in a prominent Atlanta location (provided the family would give permission) — so that we can give our greatest citizens their due.

Maria Saporta, executive editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state. From 2008 to 2020, she wrote weekly columns...

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  1. Spot on.  The statue to Dr. King would be perfect at the site of the new museum.  And Carter, definitely belongs at the Statehouse, however I have reservations about building statues to living persons, especially when they are still as active as Carter. Let’s wait.

  2. I’ve often thought Carter should have a more prominent place at the Capitol, but it seems unlikely with the current political climate. I’m kind of liking the way it is now–no obstructions, plenty of room for rallies, no controversial statue at all. Isn’t there already a statue of King at Morehouse?

  3. Meeting President Carter and his talented wife Rosalynn for the first time just two short years ago, and later having dinner with Mrs. Carter in Plains several months ago, I can attest to the incredible impact they have had and will continue to have on Georgia for the foreseeable future.
    I second the idea that a Statue of President Carter be placed in at the Capitol.  President Carter continues to use all assets at his disposal to build up Georgia into a 21st century dynamo.  Regardless of your politics, if you are a Georgian you should be proud of what this man has accomplished both in and out of the White House.  And Mrs. Carter, who has been a fabulous square dancer, in addition to leading the charge on reforming Mental Health, deserves a spot in the limelight as well.
    This Carter couple has loved Georgia down to its roots, and promoted equality as well as peace throughout our world, through humility, love of mankind, fostering friendships throughout the world and frankly telling the world and anyone who will listen about the wonders and possibilities of Georgian opportunities. 
    Drive to Plains and listen to a simple but well constructed Sunday School lesson delivered flawlessly by just Jimmy Carter.  Listen to them tell you about the struggles they overcame.  Listen to the story about how President and Mrs. Carter had to leave their church because black folks were not allowed through the front door.
    Did Martin Luther King Jr., reach the mountain top?  I believe ultimately he did. Does he deserve a place of honor? Absolutely.  Has President Carter given a dream speech equal to MLK?  Probably not but what he has done is painstakingly converted people from all walks of life, one by one, such that he avoided a war in Iran that might have turned out worse for the USA than Iraq.
    Herbert Hoover saved millions of children all around the world from dying after WWI.  But look at how history shames him because he listened to well meaning but totally misguided Republican economists that made a bad situation worse.
    Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn will be remembered for saving hundreds of thousands of children around the world from war, from disease, from despotism.  I wish I could share them with the children of the world.

  4. I heartily agree. We could have Col. Charles Scott, former Stone Mountain man (or his surviving family if deceased), do the unveiling on the relocation.

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