Lawmaker files plans to bring statue of MLK to state Capitol

by: Richard Elliot Updated:

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ATLANTA —

A Georgia lawmaker wants to replace the State Capitol statue of a 19th century politician with one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and he plans to introduce legislation next week to begin the process.

State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, pre-filed a bill that would authorize the state to place a statue of King on the Washington Street side of the Capitol, replacing the statue of former lawmaker Thomas Watson, which was moved last November to make room for planned renovations there.

"I know we're a little late, but it's never too late to do the right thing," said Brooks. "It's time to bring Dr. King to the Capitol. He's on the mall in Washington between Washington and Lincoln. He's inside the U.S. Capitol. He's around the world, so I believe the people of this state would support it."

In November, Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order moving the statue of former state lawmaker, U.S. Rep. and U.S. Sen. Thomas Watson to a park across the street. The move was made in order to make room for planned safety renovations of the Capitol's steps. Watson is credited with creating rural free mail delivery but is also remembered as a white supremacist who advocated taking the vote away from African-Americans and vilifying Jews and Catholics in editorials and speeches.

Brooks, along with members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, announced the legislation at a news conference underneath King's portrait inside the State Capitol. They also announced plans to begin fundraising efforts to pay for the actual statue. The legislation would simply allow it to be placed on the Capitol grounds.

"People will give," said SCLC CEO Charles Steele, Jr. "We're not asking the state to fund it. We're saying we'll raise money. I am a fund raiser."

King's daughter, Bernice King, told Channel Two Action News that she was not aware of the efforts to bring a statue of her father to the Capitol grounds, but she supports it.

"We have statues in almost every state in the country," said King. "So I think it's appropriate that we do have one here."

A spokesperson for House Speaker David Ralston's office said they had not yet been contacted by Brooks about the legislation but are keeping an open mind about it.