SCLC, civil rights leaders push for MLK statue at state capitol

Members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference are lobbying state leaders to approve a measure that would allow a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to be erected on the steps of the state Capitol.

The SCLC held a rally Friday at the Gold Dome to show support for legislation that would place a statue of King where a monument to Tom Watson once stood.

Former state lawmaker Tom Watson was a one-time populist turned white supremacist who vilified blacks, Catholics and Jews. His statue was permanently relocated to a park across the street from the Capitol last year.

State Rep. Tyrone Brooks is leading the effort to erect a statue of King and filed House Bill 706 in December for consideration in the legislative session that begins on Monday.

“I know we are a little late, but it’s never too late to do the right thing,” said Brooks, D-Atlanta.

Sen. Gail Davenport will be the Senate sponsor, Brooks said.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, a civil rights icon and former SCLC president, said the statue of one of Georgia’s most noted sons should have been erected long ago.

“I would urge the governor to take advantage of this opportunity, not to wait until somebody’s else is governor,” Lowery said during the announcement Friday. “There is no comparison to what Martin Luther King has meant to Georgia.”

SCLC President Emeritus and CEO Charles Steele emphasized the importance of the statue as a reminder of King’s legacy of work on behalf of the poor at the same time the organization renews its poor people’s campaign.

Brooks plans to talk with legislative leaders and Gov. Nathan Deal about the plan next week. He has also notified Martin Luther King III about the bill. The SCLC plans to fully fund the statue and not seek state funds, Steele said.

In November, crews removed Watson’s statue. Deal approved the move, but said the change was due to the deterioration of the steps.