Decatur MLK Marker will be unveiled on April 24Rev. Martin Luther King, head-and-shoulders portrait, seated, facing front, hands extended upward, during a press conference / World Telegram & Sun photo by Dick DeMarsico. Photo given to the Library of Congress and obtained via Wikimedia Commons
Decatur, GA — This month a little-known piece of Civil Rights history will be commemorated with a marker in the city of Decatur.
According to Mike Warren, a journalist who helped organize the project along with Decatur High School seniors Genesis Reddicks and Dax Pettus, the marker will be unveiled on April 24. It will be located near the corner of McDonough Street and West Trinity Place, across the street from the DeKalb County courthouse and Decatur City Hall. That’s the site where Martin Luther King Jr. was sentenced to “public works,” otherwise known as a chain gang or hard labor, in a misdemeanor traffic case. It has long been suspected that King’s real “crime” was being a Black man riding in a car with a white woman.
According to the students’ research, King’s arrest, and the court’s sentence and incarceration of Dr. King, had a significant impact on the Civil Rights Movement and the political direction of the country when then-presidential candidate John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy intervened to free King from jail. This act contributed to Black voters in the South shifting parties and electing Kennedy over Richard Nixon in 1960.
Reddicks presented her and her committee’s research project, “Commemorating King,” to the Decatur City Commission in June. The commission agreed to become the third sponsor of the project. The Georgia Historical Society accepted the application for the marker in September.
“Due to the pandemic, we can’t have a ceremony with speeches and all the rest that this moment deserves, and we’re not announcing the exact time of the event to avoid drawing a crowd,” Warren said. “But we are inviting representatives of the city, the Beacon Hill [Black Alliance for Human Rights] and two to three of the students involved to join, with Georgia Historical Society President W. Todd Groce in pulling a shroud off the marker.”
The moment will also be recorded to be included as part of a longer video Reddicks is creating.
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