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Deal pledges support for memorial to King at State Capitol

Ken Watts | 1/24/2014, 3:29 p.m.
A color guard and cadets from Martin Luther King Jr. High participate in the parade along Flat Shoals Parkway and MLK Jr. Parkway. Photo by Jennifer Ffrench-Parker

On the national holiday honoring native son Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 20, Gov. Nathan Deal pledged his support to finding an appropriate way to honor King at the Georgia State Capitol building.

“I think it’s time for Georgia’s leaders to follow in Dr. King’s footsteps and take action too,” he said during a speech at the annual King Celebration at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta. “Not many states can boast a native son who has merited a national holiday. But we Georgians can. Dr. King lived during a time when the law required discrimination against some of our citizens. That’s why, working with the General Assembly in this 2014 session, I’m committed to finding an appropriate way to honor Dr. King on Capitol Hill.”

It was Deal’s first public response to calls by civil rights activists for the state to erect a King statue in the space formerly occupied by a monument of Georgia segregationist Tom Watson. King grew up a few blocks from Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he served as co-pastor with his father, Martin Luther King Sr.

Deal said the civil rights icon was a man of God and a man of action.

“He inspired a nation through both his words and his walk while donning the garments of nonviolence and justice in place of a weapon,” he said. “As we celebrate his legacy, we must admire the audacity of a man who risked and ultimately lost his life because he would rather sacrifice it than sacrifice his dream.”

State Rep. Tyrone Brooks of Atlanta, who is leading the charge to honor King at the Capitol, introduced HB 707, a King statue bill, without fanfare on Dec. 12. He is the only signer.

“We take the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for granted, and I think we should recognize him on the grounds of the Capitol, in the city where he was born just five blocks away,” Brooks said.

Brooks said any site along the Washington Street side of the Capitol would be appropriate.

On Jan. 17, former SCLC President Joseph Lowery and other civil rights leaders recommended a spot directly in front of the Capitol’s west entrance facing Washington Street.

King is now honored at the Capitol with a portrait that has hung in various locations on the second floor. Former Gov. Jimmy Carter brought the first King portrait to the Capitol in 1973.

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5th grader Elizabeth Martinez and 3rd grader Joseph Huntley of Fairington Elementary School in Lithonia contributed a day of service sprucing up their campus on the King Holiday Jan. 20.

Throughout his hometown and across the nation, residents found ways Monday to honor King’s memory by observing the King holiday as a day of service. Volunteers fanned out into the community to clean and spruce up schools, nursing homes and other facilities.

Students, parents and staff planted flowers and trimmed weeds around shrubbery at Fairington Elementary School in Lithonia. The volunteers also mopped the hallways and the cafeteria.

Jeffrey Jenkins, the school’s principal, said that its newly elected PTSA noticed that the building was not in beautiful condition.

“So I said, ‘Why don’t we take MLK Day as an opportunity to clean up the building,’” he said. “Instead of the kids being off, they could come back and help us beautify the campus.”