Savage Truth: Martin Luther King Jr. statue unveiling in Atlanta

This is a column of opinion and analysis by 13WMAZ's Randall Savage.

After surviving some political posturing and wrangling, the statue of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. is scheduled for unveiling on Georgia state capitol grounds at 10 a.m. Monday.

Gov. Nathan Deal, along with dozens of other elected officials and civil rights advocates, are expected to attend the unveiling.

Deal proposed the idea of a King statue during a speech at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church in January 2014. King served as co-pastor of Ebenezer from 1960 until his death in 1968. The governor told the congregation that it was time to give King a large presence on the state Capitol grounds.

A few days later, six state representatives, including former Republican Rep. Larry O'Neal of Warner Robins, co-sponsored House Bill 1080, the legislation that made the King statue possible. Calvin Smyre, the state's longest serving representative, along with 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, were among the co-sponsors.

The bill sailed through the General Assembly, and Deal signed it into law April 24, 2014.

In part, the bill says "There shall be placed upon the capitol grounds of the state capitol building or in another prominent place a statue of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., subject to the availability of private funds for such purposes."

The statue depicts King walking in coat and tie with a book, possibly the Bible, in his left hand. A top coat is flung over his left arm.

A few weeks ago, a controversy erupted over the names that would appear on a plaque attached to the statue. Sculptor Martin Dawe's name will be there. Since Deal initiated the project, his name will be there as well. Smyre, a Columbus Democrat, worked with lawmakers and King's family to get details worked out and the statue completed. His name will be on the plaque.

Members of the Capitol Arts Standards Commission would have their names on the statue as well. The commission consisted of lawmakers and prominent people who approved the design and obtained funding for the project.

The controversy began when commissioners were asked to verify the spelling of their names that would be on the plague. One of the commission members, Tommy Benton, a Jefferson Republican, asked that his name be left off the plaque.

Controversy isn't new to Benton, a retired teacher.

Among other things, Benton was criticized for saying the Ku Klux Klan had straightened some people out, distributed to fellow lawmakers an article called "The Absurdity of Slavery as the Cause of the War Between the States," filed a resolution that would again make Confederate Memorial Day a state holiday and proposed legislation that would have restored streets named for Martin Luther King Jr. after his assassination to their names before the civil rights leader's death.

Benton didn't return a call to learn if he planned to attend the unveiling.

The ceremony is expected to be a gala event with Deal and other prominent people praising King's life, his work and contributions to society.

Most of them would appreciate Benton's absence.

Randall Savage is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and host of 13WMAZ's "Close Up" talk show which airs Saturdays at noon and 6 a.m. Sundays. Follow him on Twitter at @RandallWMAZ.

 

 

 

 

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