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DHS students and Georgia Historical Society unveil new historical marker honoring MLK

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DHS students and Georgia Historical Society unveil new historical marker honoring MLK

Students and mentors stand by the newly-unveiled historical marker on McDonough Street. Left to right: Michael Warren, Mawuli Davis, Daxton Pettus, Fonta High, Katrina Walker, Genesis Reddicks, Mayor emerita Elizabeth Wilson, Charles Black, Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers, and W. Todd Groce. Photo by Alex Brown.

Decatur, GA — On April 25, the result of more than a year of dedicated research and hard work by Decatur High School students and Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights was brought to fruition.

A new historical marker — commemorating an injustice faced by Dr. Martin Luther King in Decatur — was unveiled by the Georgia Historical Society. 

The unveiling was attended by Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett and Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers;  Dr. W. Todd Groce, President and CEO of the Georgia Historical Society; Beacon Hill Black Alliance Co-Chairs Fonta High and Mawuli Davis; journalist Michael Warren, who helped DHS students with their research; DHS students Genesis Reddicks and Daxton Pettus; Katrina Walker, a 12th-grade literature teacher at DHS who sponsored the students; Charles Black, co-founder of the Atlanta Student Movement; and Decatur Mayor emerita Elizabeth Wilson.

The new historical marker is located on the corner of McDonough Street and West Trinity Place, across the street from the DeKalb County courthouse and Decatur City Hall. 

The marker reads:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was sentenced here, at the site of the former DeKalb Building, on October 25, 1960, to four months of hard labor for protesting segregation with the Atlanta Student Movement at a Rich’s Department Store dining room. His arrest violated parole conditions set by Judge J. Oscar Mitchell, who had convicted King of driving without a Georgia license, even though he carried a valid Alabama license. Mitchell’s harsh sentencing of King’s parole violation energized Civil Rights activists and amplified demands to end racist laws and policies. King’s mistreatment focused national attention on the Civil Rights Movement when John and Robert Kennedy intervened to free King from prison. As a result, many Black voters switched parties to help elect John F. Kennedy president, setting the stage for major Civil Rights legislation.

Erected by the Georgia Historical Society, Students of Decatur High school, the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, and the City of Decatur

DHS seniors Genesis Reddicks and Daxton Pettus talked to Decaturish about what the completion of the marker meant to them, and what their plans are next.

Reddicks plans to attend Temple University in Philadelphia, where she hopes to major in international relations and journalism.

“I’m just really, really happy to know that we were able to make this happen,” Reddicks said. “To know that we got to meet so many prominent leaders within our own community, who were contributing factors to what we know today, is so motivating, but we also know as Black students and Black young people ourselves, that it’s now our turn to really take the ropes and be able to make some changes.”

“Genesis for president! Genesis for president!” chanted Charles Black, overhearing her statement.

Daxton Pettus said he is deciding between majoring in communications and political science, and he hopes to attend Morehouse. “I want to go into a legal career and become an attorney, hopefully, a criminal justice defense attorney,” said Pettus.

Pettus said it felt great to see the historical marker completed.

“This has truly been an educational experience learning about the history and learning about what it takes to put something up in your own city,” Pettus said. “I’m thankful for Mr. Warren, Mr. Mawuli, Ms. Fonta, and all the other mentors that have given me the necessities to make changes wherever I want to go.” 

Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett said the city plans to hold a larger recognition ceremony at the end of October, when it will hopefully be safer for more people to attend.

“This is an intergenerational effort, from the young people to the activists who originally were a part of this effort, to the current activists — we’ve got three generations here, and I think that’s very significant,” said Beacon Hill co-chair Davis. It’s a long time coming, but it was urged by the young people and supported by the community, and I think that’s important. That doesn’t happen everywhere.”

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