Yesterday, Governor Nathan Deal, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, Mayor Kasim Reed, Chairman Emeritus of the House Democratic Caucus Calvin Smyre, House Speaker David Ralston, Rev. Bernice King, and many other members of the King family and the public came together to unveil a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the grounds of the Georgia State Capitol building. For years, there have been statues depicting Confederate generals, white supremacists, and people who fought against civil rights. Now, finally, there is a statue of a man who represents the best of what this country has to offer – courage, wisdom, and the drive to make this country a better place for all who live within its borders, regardless of race, class, or creed.
The fact that the statue was unveiled on the 54th anniversary of Dr. King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech should not go unnoticed either. It has become clear, now more than ever, that the world Dr. King envisioned is not yet a reality, and may not be for a long time to come. Recent political developments have unearthed beliefs that many thought were relics of a darker time in our country’s past. The public resurgence of these beliefs has the potential to set back racial discourse in the country by decades if left unchecked. What we need now are all of our leaders – political, moral, religious, academic – to come out and say “this will not stand. These people do not represent our community, our state, or our country. Their beliefs are despicable, disgusting, and wrong.”
I truly hope that Dr. King’s newfound presence at the Capitol will serve to remind the leaders of our state who walk those halls that hate has no place in Georgia. The statue’s very existence is a step in the right direction, but it remains a solitary step. It is time to back up that symbolic gesture with real action by denouncing vile views and guaranteeing equal civil rights for all citizens of Georgia in the workplace and at the ballot box. To do any less would disrespect Dr. King’s memory mere steps from where he is now memorialized.
This must not be viewed as an end goal in the fight for equal rights and representation. This must be a new beginning.
Tharon Johnson is a consultant with Paramount Consulting Group and a Democrat strategist.