Gov. Nathan Deal sought to distance himself from the uproar from civil rights groups and Confederate enthusiasts united in opposition over a planned monument to Martin Luther King Jr. on Stone Mountain.
The governor, who initially approved the idea for the memorial, said Monday he wants to hear more debate over the idea before making up his mind.
“I thought it was a unique idea. But like any good idea, unless you have people to buy into it, what may be a good idea may not prove to be so good after all,” Deal said in his first comments about the proposal.
“I think we’re seeing a discussion, a debate perhaps even, within the African-American community as to what their position on that is. And I think that’s a healthy discussion.”
The final decision, he said, would be up to the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, whose members he appoints, and Herschend Family Entertainment, which operates the park.
The Stone Mountain Memorial Association announced last week it intended to build the monument atop Stone Mountain that would likely include a “Freedom Bell” based on a line in King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech: “Let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia.”
Since it surfaced, though, the plan for an MLK memorial has faced fierce opposition from both the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King founded. Put simply, neither side wants its legacy associated with the other.
The governor met last week with civil rights leaders who said their primary objective is to remove all remnants of the Confederacy to the state-owned Stone Mountain, the towering site where the Ku Klux Klan once burned crosses.
Deal said he told the groups during that meeting he would work to facilitate a meeting with the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, whose members he appoints. He also signaled that legislators could revisit the state law that enshrines Stone Mountain as a memorial for the Confederate war dead.
“That’s not really for me to say,” Deal said when asked whether he’s hopeful an MLK memorial will one day crown Stone Mountain. “Obviously it could be legislatively required, and there’s some talk about revisiting that … Let’s see how all of the voices that are weighing in on this, let’s see what the final conclusion of this cacophony on this difference of opinions turns out to be.”
Other civil rights icons have come out in support of the idea. Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young told the AJC’s Ernie Suggs that King set out to “create a reconciliation of races and opinions.”
“I think it is a wonderful symbolism to have a Freedom Bell on Stone Mountain that would honor Dr. King,” Young said. “It is not only a good idea. It is a necessary idea for this nation to pull together.”
Deal praised Young and other supporters of the monument for “seeing things in a bigger picture” without giving it his endorsement. He did, however, say it was “certainly symbolic” of King’s famous words.
“He actually used the reference to Stone Mountain,” he said, adding: “Let liberty ring from the top of Stone Mountain. That has a nice ring to it.”