Georgia's oldest city, Savannah, introduces its first Martin Luther King Jr. monument

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Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Savannah unveiled its first monument dedicated to the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on Saturday, King's 93rd birthday.

Hundreds attended the dedication ceremony. Attendees, including local and state officials as well as King’s sister-in-law, Naomi King, cheered as the bronze bust was revealed atop its granite pedestal. The monument is the centerpiece of Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, situated in the Plant Riverside district.

Plans for the statue have been in the works for about a decade. Its unveiling marks Savannah's first monument dedicated to King, and, notably, the first honoring a Black individual.

In a city with a majority Black population, but few historical markers of their contributions, Mayor Van Johnson called this moment history in the making.

“For a city known for its history, we’re still making history,” said Johnson. “He fought the fights we are still fighting today.”

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Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

The bust of King was designed by Italian sculptor Franco Castelluccio, who studied anatomy at the Art Students League of New York and the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Design, placement and orientation of the monument and park were all very intentional, according to Christian Sottile of the Sottile & Sottile architecture firm, which served as the urban designers of the Plant Riverside district.

The bust faces north towards the U.S. Capitol and Lincoln Memorial, where King gave his iconic “I Have A Dream" speech in 1963, at the height of the civil rights movement. Parts of the speech are engraved on the side of the granite pedestal.

On the flanking sides, text from Dr. King’s Emancipation Day Address, which was given on a visit to Savannah in 1961, are engraved as well.

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Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

The monument was also strategically placed at the end of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, once known as West Broad Street and the business and cultural center for Black Savannahians. The once-thriving corridor fell into disrepair in the 1960s when an overpass was built and split the community.

“It honors Dr. King’s legacy and the role of MLK Boulevard in the city … reconnecting the community to the river,” said Sottile.

Edna Jackson, Georgia’s District 165 Representative and former mayor, also acknowledged the significance of the location.

“But what better place than to put the bust here at the beginning of what was West Broad Street,” said Edna Jackson, who lived along the corridor as a child on Gwinnett Street.

The Kessler Collection, which built Plant RIverside, along with Georgia Power Foundation and the City of Savannah supported the establishment of the Martin Luther King Jr. Park and bronze memorial bust.

“I think it's a point of pride for the city,” said Richard Kessler, head of the Kessler Collection. “Dr. King came to this city several times. He gave speeches here and therefore there's a lot of identity with Dr. King and what he meant to the city personally and to the people here.”

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Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Naomi King, who had traveled down from Atlanta to attend the ceremony, said she was honored to be attending the event recognizing her brother-in-law.

“It’s such a wonderful feeling to see all the people that have gathered…in tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.,” said King.

Festivities will continue throughout the weekend. The Plant Riverside district is presenting free live music in honor of King through Monday, Jan. 17.

William Austin Smith, inspired by King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech, will perform each evening at 9 p.m. during the fountain show at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park.

Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter covering Chatham County municipalities. Reach her at nguan@gannett.com or on Twitter @nancyguann.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Georgia's oldest city, Savannah, introduces its first Martin Luther King Jr. monument