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Statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to grace state capitol

Ken Watts | 3/14/2014, 3:04 a.m.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., shown at the 1963 March on Washington, was born on Auburn Avenue just a few miles away from the Georgia State Capitol.

A statue of Georgia son and civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will soon grace the grounds of the State Capitol.

The Georgia Senate voted 49-to-1 on March 12 to allow the first monument to the late civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner somewhere on the grounds or in another prominent place “as soon as is practical.”

The vote was a rare show of bipartisanship in the Legislature, crossing party and racial lines.

A portrait of King, who was born just a few miles away on Auburn Avenue, hangs inside the Capitol building, but there is no other memorial to him in or around the site.

The overwhelming vote by the senators approved HB 1080, which passed the House of Representatives on March 3 with a vote of 173-to-3.

Democratic state Sen. Gail Davenport, a member of the DeKalb Delegation, sponsored the bill in the Senate. She said the vote says a lot about Georgia.

“It shows Georgia in a positive light, that we’re honoring the life and legacy of one our noted sons, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., someone who was reared here in Georgia, lived a few miles from the Capitol, and then a person who received more than 600 awards and honorary degrees, and really a true drum major for justice,” she said Wednesday on the Senate floor.

Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) supported the King bill shortly after the Senate approved a bill for a monument of the Ten Commandments and other documents. He said it was important to honor King.

“I just want to assure all of our fellow senators that we worked closely with our legislative counsel to assure that in no way would we have any issues with the likeness or other intellectual property of Dr. King on the statue, so private funds as well the state of Georgia would not have any additional costs to them,” he said.

“I do think it would be very appropriate to have the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King next to the Ten Commandments and other important monuments.”

Rep. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) was the lone senator to vote against the bill. In a statement after the vote, he said he opposed the measure because he was not convinced by the language of the bill that the statue will never cost the taxpayers.

“Though the bill specifically states private funds must be used in order to erect the statue, it does not expressly exclude from the use of public funds for intellectual property rights,” he said. “With the King family fighting over the sale of Dr. King’s Bible and Nobel Peace Prize, I am not comfortable with erecting the statute on state property at this time.”

Last week, in a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal’s chief of staff, the King estate said it should have input on plans to honor the civil rights icon.

Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta), who co-sponsored the King statue bill with Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) in the House, said intellectual property rights won’t be a problem.