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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Rita Jackson Samuels, April 30, 1974. Interview A-0077. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Symbolism of King's portrait in Georgia capitol

After a brief comment on Lester Maddox's opposition to the portrait of Martin Luther King hanging in the capitol, installed during Jimmy Carter's administration, Samuels comments on the portrait's significance.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Rita Jackson Samuels, April 30, 1974. Interview A-0077. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Wasn't even spoken . . .the legislature didn't have anything to do with what's hanging in the state capitol. You didn't have to put it in the form of a bill. The Governor is the one who can . . . and this is under re-organization. Before re-organization, the Secretary of State had authority over what would happen to the state capitol building. And since re-organization, it was the Governor's authority to say what would happen. And I went to him and I asked him and when he told me that we could do it I didn't respond to Lester Maddox's statement, I didn't respond to anything. And I had press people come and ask me about it, and I just said, "I have no comment on it one way or another, because the portrait is going up." And it will never come down. I mean, I understand Lester Maddox made a statement and said that when he's re-elected that Martin Luther King's portrait will come down. But it will not come down. I just think that there will . . . I don't even think he was serious if he said it. I didn't hear the statement, so I'm not sure he said it.
So we've finally got the story of the portrait. We've been trying to get it for all these days . . .
Oh, have you? Well, what were you getting? What did you get? Absolutely nothing?
No, we were really . . .we'd been hearing about Maddox's comments. Finally got that too, a copy of a newspaper story on his comments about the portrait.
See, the only . . .the only . . .
Is it symbolic of something else other than just the fact that you've got black and white portraits hanging in the capitol?
Well, it's symbolic because of who it is. Martin Luther King, Jr., as far as I'm concerned, as the president of black people on a national level, and, see, you know, had legislators said anything about, "Well, you know, he was not a statesman." I would have been able to deal with that, because I disagree with that. Martin Luther King is more responsible for the voter's rights bill than anybody else that I know of, you know. And I think that he's also responsible . . .you see, it was not Martin Luther King, it was Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael who were saying were saying "Burn, baby, burn" and, you know, really inciting riots. Not Dr. King. And I think that Dr. King made it as comfortable for Lester Maddox to be in the capitol four years and not lead blacks up here to stage demonstrations, because that would not . . . you know, he was not that kind of person. You know. So I think that . . . that he is as much responsible for the progress that we have been able to make in Atlanta and in the state as well, among both black and white citizens. I mean, black people are talking together and . . . I mean, black and white people are talking together, they are doing things together and it's . . . and as a result of that, you can see a lot of progress in a lot of different areas, not just, you know, voter registration, and not just voting, but there are other areas as well. And I . . . you know, because of who he is, he is the one who should be in the capitol. And I had no . . . I never thought for a minute that when they turned in five names to the Governor and Martin Luther King was one of them, I knew that Martin Luther King would be chosen, you know. And I knew that the Governor would be criticized for it, but the Governor, see . . .one other thing, when people, you know, ask, "Well, where does the idea come from?" And I say, "Well, you know, I mentioned it to him." But I didn't have any authority at all to put it up, and had Jimmy Carter not really wanted to do it, he wouldn't, you know. Because he really got some nasty letters about it, you know. But I think that he felt the same way I did. Because we discussed it in detail, about why should it be Martin Luther King rather than other people, George Washington Carver, you know. And we discussed it, and I think he felt the same way. And the Governor is the one who made . . . who decided that it would be Martin Luther King, Lucy Laney, and Henry MacNeill Turner. Don't you think that it's symbolic?