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Illinois representatives, Secretary of State Jesse White discuss new statue honoring MLK

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – A new Illinois House task force responsible for analyzing the statues and monuments on the Capitol grounds met in Chicago Wednesday morning. Members heard from several people hoping to see a new statue of Martin Luther King Jr. put in a prominent spot outside the statehouse.

Many feel the current statue of Dr. King doesn’t reflect who the civil rights leader was. Secretary of State Jesse White would also like to see it changed.

White announced last month that he’ll personally put $5,000 towards a fund investing in a new MLK statue. The 86-year-old first met King while playing basketball at Alabama State University. White also went to Rev. King’s church and participated in the Montgomery bus boycott with Rosa Parks.

Above all, he feels the current statue doesn’t represent the man who fought for fairness and justice.

“I’ve seen Dr. King for 75 times, close to a hundred times,” White said. “And that didn’t look like him. This gentleman had his coat slung over his shoulder and he looked like a sharecropper. Dr. King has never looked like that. He always was a dapper fella, always had a suit and a tie on.”

White said that’s why he started the effort to create a new statue with a better image of his colleague. Chairwoman Mary Flowers says Illinois must find an artist that can make a statue showcasing the man she met as a young girl in Chicago. Overall, she feels the art should reflect everything King did for the country.

Tourists in Springfield may not recognize who the statue is honoring as it stands under a tree at the corner of 2nd Street and Capitol Avenue. The weathered MLK statue is frequently a victim of bird droppings as well.

Dr. Kings legacy

White’s office asked the National Civil Rights Museum to explain why Illinois should have a better dedication to King and his legacy. Museum experts told lawmakers about King’s life and the many historic events he participated in.

Dr. Noelle Trent explained Illinois should also highlight work of local activists who helped King.

“Dr. King could not have come to Chicago and had the impact that he had in Chicago without the folks who were doing the work on the ground. I think that that’s incredibly important,” Trent said.

The Director of Interpretation, Collections, and Education says Illinois should try to integrate Chicago’s role in the movement into history curriculum standards. Likewise, Trent feels a statue only makes sense if the state provides the proper context. She later explained the Civil Rights Museum is willing to help the Illinois State Museum with any programming or resources that they may need.

Committee members also talked about taking a road trip to the Civil Rights Museum this summer.

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Mike Miletich

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