Georgia lawmakers filed a resolution Wednesday calling for the state to replace the U.S Capitol statue of Alexander H. Stephens - the vice president of the Confederate States - with one of Martin Luther King Jr.
Each state is permitted to send two statues of its choice to be exhibited in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the U.S. Capitol. Georgia sent statues of physician Crawford Long and Stephens.
Under legislation by Rep. Scot Turner, R-Holly Springs and co-sponsored by Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, along with lawmakers from both parties, Stephens would be replaced by King.
Three years ago the great, great, great grand-nephews of Stephens wrote then-Gov. Nathan Deal a letter asking that Stephens' statue be removed.
Stephens, a longtime Georgia politician, argued that enslavement was the "normal and natural condition" of black people.
Turner said a friend, a seventh-generation Georgian who works in Washington DC, called him a few weeks ago and told him the state should make the change.
Turner noted that Stephens gave what's known as the Cornerstone Speech in defense of slavery shortly before the start of the Civil War.
“It’s time for us to move forward from that kind of thinking and honor somebody who has fought for human rights and civil rights in this country,” Turner said.
“When you have Americans worthy of having a statue placed there, that’s a very high honor. I just don’t think we should be placing a statue of someone who actually tried to justify it (slavery) and used words like ‘they are an inferior race’ to justify his actions.”
With a little more than a week likely left in the 2020 General Assembly session, Turner knows his legislation isn’t likely to pass this year. But it could get lawmakers to start thinking about it for 2021.
“It’s a conversation starter,” said Turner, who is retiring from the General Assembly at the end of this year.
His measure, House Resolution 1551, comes after weeks of protests in Atlanta and across the world against racism and police brutality.
Making changes in the U.S. Capitol Statuary Hall has precedence.
The Florida legislature voted in 2018 to replace a likeness of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith with African-American education and civil rights icon Mary McLeod Bethune.
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