NAACP objects to MLK Drive location for Civil War marker

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

By Megan Matteucci
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

To mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the street named after civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. will soon bear a marker commemorating the burning of Atlanta.

The Georgia Historical Society will install the historical marker Monday in front of the Georgia Railroad Freight Depot on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said it doesn’t mind remembering history, but it would have preferred a different location.

“It seems to be honoring something that reminds us of some tragic occurrences that happened to our people at the time. The whole war itself centered around the slave issue,” said R.L. White, president of the NAACP’s Atlanta branch. “We accept that it’s history but would like to see it done somewhere else than the heart of the civil rights historic district. It’s kind of tragic that the state is choosing that location.”

W. Todd Groce, president of the Historical Society, said the site was picked because it is where the burning took place.

“This is about telling stories not told in the past, including the stories of the African-Americans,” Groce said. “It was an issue about race and slavery. Some can even say that Dr King’s remarkable accomplishments are part of this and related [to it]. What he had to do was finish that last chapter to African-Americans. It was the final chapter of the Civil War.”

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and Historical Society officials will unveil the marker at 11 a.m. Monday. It will mark Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea, when he ordered troops to burn all railroads, factories and commercial buildings of possible use to the Confederacy.

Despite statewide budget cuts, Georgia has allocated $380,565 this year for activities commemorating the war’s sesquicentennial. About $80,000 of that will go to the Georgia Historical Society to install historical markers, said Alison Tyrer, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Economic Development.

The state awards the money to the Historical Society, but it is not involved in the decisions as to how to spend it, she said.

“It’s all about trying to capture heritage tourism dollars,” said Will Hanley, the marker coordinator for the Historical Society. “We feel there will be a lot of tourism dollars spent on the Civil War anniversary.”

As part of the commemoration, 13 new markers will be installed and seven missing or damaged markers will be replaced. Groce said the Historical Society tried to include historical events that included African-Americans, women, Unionists and the home front — topics previously neglected.

There are already about 200 Civil War markers in the region, but none mention the burning of Atlanta, Groce said.

© 2011 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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