While communities grapple with how to handle monuments to Confederate leaders, a sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr. was unveiled on the grounds of the Georgia state Capitol Monday.
King’s family, activists and some of the state’s top Democrat and Republican lawmakers said the 8-foot-tall, bronze image of the civil rights icon in mid-stride should be an example to the country.
"This statue being unveiled today I believe also provides a sense of hope to a nation that is in turmoil once again,” said the Rev. Bernice King, King’s daughter. “Once again Martin Luther King Jr. standing erected is providing a sense of direction as we deal with the current controversial climate.”
Bernice King spoke to hundreds gathered outside the state Capitol.
The crowd spread onto the nearby Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, from where the new King statue will be visible to drivers and pedestrians on the busy street.
Georgia’s Capitol grounds are dominated by the images of segregationist politicians and even an alleged leader of the Ku Klux Klan, John Brown Gordon. A statue of Gordon in Confederate uniform atop a horse is located on a corner now opposite the statue of King.
The new monument is the first to be installed on the Georgia Capitol grounds since 1997 and is the first honoring an African-American.
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal reminded the crowd the statue’s unveiling came on the 54th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
“During these intervening years, much progress has been made toward the realization of Dr. King’s dream,” Deal said. “But much yet remains. Our actions here today symbolize the evolved mindset of our state, as we continue to reconcile our history and our hearts.”
Deal has said he expects the future for statues of Gordon, Confederate leaders and segregationists, is likely to be discussed during Georgia’s legislative session next year.
Since recent violence in Charlottesville, some Georgia lawmakers have called for the statues to be removed.
Speaking to reporters in front of the unveiled statue of her father, Bernice King echoed those calls.
“It’s past time for the Confederate monuments to be placed in the context of a museum where people can learn that history,” she said.
Calvin Smyre has served in the Georgia House since 1975 and is the most prominent member of the Legislature’s Black Caucus. He helped raise money for the King statue, which he wanted to be the focus of the day, even though he acknowledged discussions about the future of other statues on the Capitol grounds will come soon.
“Today is a defining moment in our state’s history. Let’s not squander it, but instead, let’s take advantage of this moment,” Smyre said.