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Montgomery mayor seeks monument for King Jr.

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. rose from being an obscure Baptist preacher to jump start the Civil Rights Movement as he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott more than 50 years ago, but there’s not a monument to King in the town where he rose to national prominence.

Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright says it’s time to change that.

During a celebration of what would have been King’s 78th birthday Monday, Bright said he will help lead an effort to build a monument for King somewhere in Montgomery. He said the memorial might be near the Capitol steps where King spoke at the end of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March and the small frame church across the street where he first preached his message of peace and love in the 1950s.

“I think a monument to King will happen and I accept the charge to help make it happen,” Bright, who is white, said to a racially mixed crowd of more than 200 gathered at the church, now known as Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, for a service to remember King on the state holiday in his honor.

King was remembered across Alabama on Monday at prayer breakfasts, church services and rallies. The service at the Montgomery church finished just moments before the inauguration on the Capitol steps of Gov. Bob Riley to a second term. King was also remembered during the inauguration ceremony in remarks by 96-year-old Johnnie Carr, president of the Montgomery Improvement Association and a leader of the bus boycott that started when seamstress Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus to a white man.

'Happy birthday'

"I say happy birthday to Dr. Martin Luther King," Carr said in a loud, steady voice to the mostly white crowd gathered to watch Riley, a Republican, take the oath of office for a second term.

Carr, whose grandson was beaten to death by a street gang in 2001, said King would be upset by the violence and crime in today's society.

"His message today would be to stop the killing, stop the robbing, stop the drugs," Carr said.

At the church across the street, old civil rights pioneers who marched with King and teenagers who were born long after King died, joined hands and sang the civil rights standard "We Shall Overcome" and promised never to forget King's message.

Lillie Mae Bradford, 76, said she could never forget the man whom she thanks for her freedom. Bradford was arrested on a Montgomery city bus three years before Parks was taken to jail for refusing to give up her seat. She said King came to Montgomery at the time he was needed most.

"With all the injustice we had to go through, we needed a man like Martin Luther King to free us all. I was hoping someone would come along to give us that freedom," Bradford said.

Sidney Williams, chairman of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles and one of the highest ranking black state officials, said honoring King was the most important thing for him to do on Inauguration Day.

"Out of all the things going on, this King celebration takes a precedence. I don't think we should ever put Dr. King on a back burner," said Williams, who was appointed to the parole board after retiring as a Montgomery police officer. He was one of the city's first black officers.

Williams said he would love to see a monument to King, long discussed in Montgomery, become a reality.

"It's something that should happen. It's going to take people coming together to make it happen," Williams said.

Bright said he's ready to organize committees and will work with all groups interested to make a monument to King become a reality.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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