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Sec. of State Jesse White wants new, prominent statue of Martin Luther King Jr. on Illinois Capitol grounds

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Secretary of State Jesse White says it's time for Illinois to have a new statue honoring Martin Luther King Jr. at the state Capitol.

White announced Tuesday that he'll personally contribute the first $5,000 into the investment for the design and building of the statue. The current MLK statue is at the corner of 2nd Street and Capitol Avenue. "Freedom Corner" showcases the bronze statue looking across the street towards the Capitol.

"I stand ready to help in any way that will bring about a new statue of Dr. King that is prominent, dignified and representative not only of the man as I knew him but of the man as he was known to the nation and the world," White stated.

White considers King one of his earliest mentors. The Chicago native moved to Montgomery, Alabama for college and attended King's church in the early 1950s. White also participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott alongside other civil rights leaders to end segregation in public transit. The 86-year-old said the peaceful protest taught him about the importance of perseverance and working together toward common goals.

"To this day, I remain impacted by Dr. King's teachings," White stated. "His values and dignified behavior continue to inspire and resonate with me. I remember Dr. King attending my college basketball games and staying afterward to offer me words of encouragement and support. He made a difference in my life."

Removing questionable statues

A statue of Pierre Menard, the first Lt. Governor of Illinois, was removed in September.

Staff removed statues of Stephen Douglas and Pierre Menard from the Capitol Complex grounds in September. Racial injustice throughout 2020 and hundreds of years beforehand led to criticism of the former U.S. Senator and first Lt. Governor of Illinois, as both men owned slaves.

Former House Speaker Mike Madigan initially called for the removal in July following months of civil unrest in reaction to the murder of George Floyd. Madigan felt Douglas and Menard fostered bigotry and oppression.

Meanwhile, current Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch created a Statue and Monument Review Task Force last month to address similar issues. Welch says statues and other ceremonial landmarks on state property should reflect the values and morals of Illinois.

Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) chairs the bipartisan task force that plans to meet several times before submitting a report to the General Assembly. Members can suggest the removal of problematic statues. They could also discuss the possibility of erecting new statues reflecting on diversity and inclusivity.

"I look forward to working with the task force and helping in any way I can to commission a new statue of Dr. King," White stated.

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Mike Miletich

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