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Opinion | MLK statue long overdue at State Capitol

Josh Moon

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By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

At a ceremony Monday at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in downtown Montgomery, Gov. Kay Ivey will announce Alabama’s inclusion in a 12-state Civil Rights Trail.

The Trail will feature historic landmarks in several cities, including 10 sites in Montgomery alone.

At none of those Montgomery sites will there be a statue of Martin Luther King Jr.

Because there isn’t a single statue of the man in Montgomery.

Not in the city where he helped to start the fight against Jim Crow laws and segregation.

Not on the state capitol grounds, where ended the Selma-to-Montgomery March in front of the capitol steps (then Gov. George Wallace wouldn’t allow King to deliver his speech on the steps).

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Somehow, despite there being dozens of statues and monuments around the country devoted to King, there is not one in the city where he got his start.

There are statues and monuments devoted to the man on other states’ capitol grounds, but not Alabama’s.

And it’s not like we don’t enjoy a good statue.

There’s one for Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, James Marion Sims and even Hank Williams.

Two traitors, an awful human who experimented on slave women without anesthesia and a singer.

But not the guy who led a national movement through the streets of Montgomery, who taught the world about equality and the power of peaceful protest and the indignity of Jim Crow.

That’s an oversight that really isn’t much of an oversight.

A few days ago, as I was searching through old news stories about Alabama’s refusal to accept civil rights laws and own up to the indignities of the past, I ran across a gem of an Associated Press story from 2004 about the resignation of a former director of Alabama’s Historical Commission.

Citing pressure from “pro-Confederate groups,” Lee Warner resigned and left behind a project that would have extended the front lawn of the Alabama capitol grounds onto Bainbridge Street. That would have allowed for a memorial to be put in place to honor King and the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march.

The project was originally supported by Gov. Don Siegelman but was nixed by Gov. Bob Riley.

The debate over it turned so ugly that a meeting of the Alabama Historical Commission had to be quickly adjourned, according to a Tuscaloosa News story from 2004, after members of a “pro-Confederate” group “advanced on the commission while shouting.”

Yeah, that happened this millenium in Alabama.

So, here we are.

No King statue, and we’re still funding the Confederate Memorial Park.

And by funding that park, I mean through property tax dollars specifically devoted to that place — tax dollars outside of the allotment used by all other state parks. We have a special fund set up just for that park, a fund that ensures the Confederate Memorial Park is the best funded, most well-kept park in the entire state.

Two years ago, when state parks were facing closures and steep cuts, the Confederate park wasn’t. It was rolling along at the same $400,000-plus funding level as always.

It’s a travesty that deserves to be corrected.

So, while it will be nice to use King’s national holiday to announce this Civil Rights Trail, it would be even nicer if state officials would announce the righting of a very big wrong.

And finally give King, and the movement he inspired, the proper respect.

 

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