50 years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in Memphis, Tenn. The civil rights leader was 39 years old. Scores visited his hometown of Atlanta to honor his legacy.

Speakers say King still relevant, call for monument at Stone Mountain

With Stone Mountain’s Confederate carving as a backdrop, DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond spoke about honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy 50 years after the civil right leader’s assassination.

“If you want this day to be special, you will rededicate yourself to fulfilling the unfinished work that Dr. King left behind,” Thurmond told the crowd.

Thurmond said King’s message of tolerance and equality was radical for his time but remains relevant today with ongoing campaigns for a living wage and better schools for black children. He noted that King traveled to Memphis to stand with sanitation workers despite the threats on his life.

“We celebrate him now. We call his name all over this nation all over this world. But yet while he lived, he was a despised man,” Thurmond said.

The “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony was hosted by a state advisory board created by Gov. Nathan Deal to promote awareness and appreciation of the slain civil rights leader. It initially was slated for the top of the mountain but was moved indoors because of the threat of high winds.

Sen. Emanuel Jones, who chairs the Martin Luther King Jr. Advisory Council, used the event as an opportunity to publicize his plan to erect a memorial in honor of King at Stone Mountain’s summit.

DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond delivers the keynote address during Let Freedom Ring event at the Memorial Hall in Stone Mountain Park on Wednesday, April 4, 2018. The event was originally planned for the top of the mountain but because of weather was moved indoors. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Jones, D-Decatur, sponsored a resolution supporting installation of a Liberty Bell monument that includes excerpts from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he said, “let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.” That resolution was approved by the state senate this session.

“My goal is to build a grand bell tower atop Stone Mountain,” Jones, D-Decatur, said. “We need to have a presence here. This is just the beginning.”

The next step for Jones is gaining the approval of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, which has say over park operations. Thurmond, the association’s only African-American member, said he hasn’t seen a plan for the Liberty Bell but supports additions to the park that tell a more complete story about Georgia history.

The carving of three Confederate generals on the face of the mountain has been a point of contention for years, and there have been calls for its removal and boycotts.

Lately conversation has shifted from what should be taken away from the park to what could be added.

“I think it’s important to speak the truth,” Thurmond said.

Bill Stephens, CEO of the association, and Carolyn Meadows, its chairwoman, both attended the event where copies of the Senate resolution were distributed to guests. They said it was too soon to say whether they supported Jones’ proposal but wanted to hear more.

“There are lot of good ideas; that’s one of them,” Stephens said.

Meadows said she hadn’t heard about the Liberty Bell before Wednesday and wanted to learn more.

“I didn’t know that it would be presented, but our board would be the ones to look at it,” she said.

Jones said the Liberty Bell monument will be a priority as long as he serves in the General Assembly.

“I plan to spend however many years I’m allowed to be in this legislature in ensuring that we build that facility on top of Stone Mountain,” he said.

MLK stories elsewhere

In Memphis: Channel 2 Action News reports that a huge crowd turned out at the Lorraine Motel, where King was killed. The motel, now the headquarters of the National Civil Rights Museum, opened a new exhibit called "MLK50: A Legacy Remembered" on Wednesday. 

It’s a sacred place for many.

“I wanted to remember Dr. King," Peggy Vanderbilt told WSB-TV. "I’m getting emotional now, I'm sorry. Just to remember him because he did a lot for us. And I thank God that he did come along to help us out.” 

In Washington: President Donald Trump said it’s up to people, not government, to achieve the ideals expressed by King. 

"In remembrance of his profound and inspirational virtues, we look to do as Dr. King did while this world was privileged enough to still have him," Trump’s proclamation said. 

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