A Rocky Mount City Council vote of 5-2 has put a controversial statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. back in a city park nearly four years after it made its first appearance and two years after it was removed.
The city took it down from the park that bears King’s name in 2005 after public outcry that it looked nothing like the civil rights leader. The statue has since been tucked away in a warehouse.
“I've long thought that it should be up,” said council member Chris Miller. “I was disappointed when it was taken down. Just differences of understanding, I think, about what a statue is.”
Dr. Elbert Lee marched with Dr. King. He was one of the loudest voices arguing to take it down, noting the lack of resemblance to King.
“To know a statue like that is going back up there, which will be there forever,” Lee said. “An unborn generation will never know the real appearance of Dr. Martin King.”
The city tried to hire another artist who created another model, but many people argued it still didn't look like King. Then the council voted to scrap the project all together.
On Monday, Rocky Mount resident Mae Parker asked leaders to reconsider their decision, and the majority of the council agreed it was time to move forward.
“It was intended to honor Dr. King and his life, and his life and his accomplishments are certainly worth of being honored,” Miller said.
“I think this was a more serious matter which should have had some kind of level of discussion that included the community,” said council member Andre Knight, who voted against the change.
Knight said he worries this quick decision ignores the voices of some concerned citizens.
“We do have bigger issues that I think Dr. King would want us to champion,” he said.
The statue could soon return to its original place in the park. The city has been asked to re-instate the statue by May 26 for a community event in the park. Assistant City Manager Peter Varney said a local contractor has offered to do so for free.