Lawmaker chastised for Confederate views doesn’t want his name on MLK statue

A clay modeling of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue to be placed on the state Capitol lawn in August. Courtesy Georgia Building Authority.

Credit: Jim Galloway

Credit: Jim Galloway

A clay modeling of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue to be placed on the state Capitol lawn in August. Courtesy Georgia Building Authority.

In just over two months, a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. will be unveiled on the grounds of the state Capitol. The clay prototype has been shipped off to the foundry for the bronze casting.

The photos of the clay modeling, above and below, may be the first you've seen see of it. King is in mid-stride, book in his left hand, with an overcoat slung over his left arm.

Earlier this month, the time had come to decide who will get credit for the work -- aside from the sculptor, Martin Dawe. Nathan Deal’s name will be first, as it should be. The Republican governor started the ball rolling with an MLK Day speech in 2015.

The name of state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, will be high up, too. Smyre, the longest-serving legislator in the Capitol, has served as go-between ‘twixt the Capitol types and the King family.

On June 2, an email went out to members of the Capitol Arts Standards Commission, a panel of lawmakers and citizens assigned to approve the design and funding for the statue. Members were told to reserve 10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 28, for the unveiling, and were asked to approve the spellings of their names for the plaque that will accompany the statue.

Proofreading is important. Typos in stone or metal are notoriously difficult to correct.

Every member of the commission asked did so, except for one. State Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson. Benton requested that his name be omitted completely.

Perhaps you have heard of Benton, who served on the arts standards commission in 2015 and 2016. From a Friday article by my AJC colleague Chris Joyner:

House spokesman Kaleb McMichen said Ralston was among those who received [an] envelope from Benton with an article titled "The Absurdity of Slavery as the Cause of the War Between the States."

Reached a few minutes ago, Smyre confirmed that Benton had asked that his name not appear on the MLK statute. The Columbus lawmaker the request came before the most recent flap – which began with Benton’s appointment to the civics education committee.

We have not reached Benton, so we do not know his motivation for requesting his name not be included on the statue. But in 2014, Benton had been one of three House Republicans who voted against HB 1080, Smyre’s bill calling for the statue to be erected. “While disappointing, there is a bit of consistency there,” Smyre said.

Benton has a history of introducing measures aimed at restoring Confederate symbolism to its high, pre-integration perch. He introduced a resolution to re-establish a formal Confederate Memorial Day as a state holiday.

Yet another bill would have caused streets renamed since the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to revert to their pre-1968 names. An effect of that bill,  had it passed,  would have resulted in a portion of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Atlanta reverting to its earlier name of Gordon Road,  in honor of Gen. John B. Gordon,  a Confederate general and former governor and senator for Georgia who also was a leader in the Ku Klux Klan.

Neither measure moved.

Here's the full measure of the King statue:

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