MLK marker in Decatur commemorates historic arrest

Officials from Georgia Historic Society, city of Decatur, Decatur High School and Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights unveiled a marker April 25 at the intersection of N. McDonough Street and Trinity Street in downtown Decatur, commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s arrest during the Atlanta Student Movement protest.

Georgia Historical Society officials said King was sentenced at the site —across W. Trinity Street from the DeKalb County Courthouse and where the marker now stands—Oct. 25, 1960, to four months of hard labor for protesting segregation with the Atlanta Student Movement at a Rich’s department store dining room in DeKalb County.

According to a release from Georgia Historical Society, King’s mistreatment brought national attention to the Civil Rights Movement when John and Robert Kennedy intervened to free King from prison.

Students from Decatur High School worked on a research project and presentations to get the marker placed.

Georgia Historical Society officials and Decatur High School students said the arrest and its aftermath impacted a national election and “inspired people to push for changes in our community, in rarely acknowledged ways that have shaped what the city of Decatur is today.”

Atlanta Student Movement co-founder Charles Black and Decatur’s first Black Mayor Elizabeth Wilson—who officials said witnessed the arrest—and city of Decatur officials, joined the unveiling.

“As a Decatur [High School] alum, I’m really proud of the generation of kids we have coming behind us. They’ve really picked up the torch in ways we never imagined,” said Decatur Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers. “At the beginning of the lockdown, we stood on the steps of city hall with some of these very same people who were demanding change. To me, this is a direct result of that change starting to come to fruition.”

DHS students Genesis Reddicks and Daxton Pettus said their student group turned a history lesson about the arrest into a research project, campaigned for a marker and delivered presentations to city staff.

According to Reddicks, King’s arrest and how it impacted Decatur, Georgia and America is hidden history that the student activists are proud to share with their community.

“It adds so much of a shift to what we know of today as history, but it’s not really talked about, and we didn’t learn about it in school,” said Reddicks. “This is why we thought it was really important to tell the story and talk about this community’s impact on the entire country.”

Pettus said educating the community was an important part of the project, and that working with activists who lived through the protests and arrests was eye opening.

“It’s really hidden history that the residents of Decatur didn’t know about. It took us knowing about it to educate our school first and then the community,” said Pettus. “It was great to hear their first-person experience from someone who lived through it. It was really eye opening to see that they were doing it at a young age… at our age.”

Local activists unveiled a marker in downtown Decatur in honor of Martin Luther King Jr’s arrest in DeKalb County, which officials said impacted an election and the country.

Mayor Patti Garrett described the different generations coming together to work on the marker project as “amazing to see.”

“It has been a great collaborative effort,” said Garrett. “It’s great to have Elizabeth Wilson as a part of this group with [Decatur High School students], and what it must mean to people like her who have seen so much happen in their community over her lifetime.”

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