People of faith are fond of observing that the Lord provides all we need in His own perfect timing, if not necessarily the timing we’d have chosen ourselves. And so it is with the statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. unveiled on the grounds of Georgia’s State Capitol earlier today.
Coming 54 years to the day after King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., 49 years after his assassination in Memphis, 31 years after his birthday was first observed as a federal holiday, and three years after the bill authorizing its creation was signed into law, the placement of a statue in his honor outside the Gold Dome is long overdue. But this timing is perfect in that it comes when racial tensions are high and a debate over the monuments we erect to remember our history is heated.
The program may have opened with a rendition of “Georgia on My Mind” by Timothy Miller, but it was clear Charlottesville was also in the thoughts of many of those assembled for the occasion.
There were the references by the speakers to the events of two weeks ago, when white supremacists clashed with “antifa” counter-protesters. There was also the overwhelming security presence, starting with the closure of nearby streets and quite literally topped off by the armed personnel monitoring the festivities from the Capitol’s rooftop. It’s safe to say state and local officials were taking no chances with the possibility of a disruption, or worse.
In the end, however, the event showed off the best of us.
Black Democrats and white Republicans took turns honoring King and calling for our better angels to prevail in this tense environment. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed noted the statue — “in the shadow of the Gold Dome, on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, across the street from Liberty Plaza” — would “add depth and an essential balance to the story of Georgia” as told on its Capitol grounds. House Speaker David Ralston pointed out that while “too many yesterdays have slipped by for us, yesterdays we can never reclaim or change,” we should keep in mind that “from them we can grow and learn.” Gov. Nathan Deal said it revealed “the evolved mindset of our state” as we “continue to reconcile our history and our hearts.”
But it was King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, who made the most explicit mention of timing. “This day is no accident,” she said. “It had to happen on this day, at this time, with everything happening in this nation.”
If anyone missed the providential nature of holding this event on this day, the air was supernaturally cool and breezy for late August in Atlanta. That in itself was a blessing for all who chose to spend a couple of hours outside to honor a man whose legacy still points to the way we should engage, challenge and ultimately abide with one another.