David Ralston on the day that ‘took much too long to get here’

House Speaker David Ralston at the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue. AJC/Greg Bluestein

One of the more striking speeches at Monday’s unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue on the statehouse grounds was given by House Speaker David Ralston, a north Georgia Republican who acknowledged immediately “this day took much too long to get here.”

In his remarks, he talks of hate-filled people who still “cling to prejudice” and bygone days stained with “hate and evil.” He looks to King for inspiration, he said, recognizing that so long as Georgians “dedicate themselves to the peaceful pursuit of righteousness, our best days are surely ahead of us.”

“That’s why it is so fitting that Dr. King’s statue faces the East,” he said. “This statue will see the dawn of every new day in Georgia. It will stand watch as we continue to strive for the righteousness that each and every citizen deserves.”

More: Long time coming: MLK statue unveiled at Georgia Capitol

Read Ralston’s entire speech:

This day took much too long to get here. Too many yesterdays have slipped away from us – yesterdays we can never reclaim or change. From those days, we can grow and learn.

On the evening of April 4, 1968, I sat in my bedroom in my home in Ellijay doing homework. I had my transistor radio on when the news bulletin broke: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Georgia’s native son, had been assassinated in Memphis.

While Dr. King’s life was tragically – and unjustly – cut short, his legacy stands as a testament to the responsibility entrusted to us by God. We have the responsibility and the duty to seek equality and justice. We are charged by our Creator to strive for righteousness.

The teachings of Jesus tell us much about righteousness. In the Book of Matthew, we read of Jesus teaching his disciples through the Beatitudes. Jesus tells them, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”

Jesus acknowledges that seeking righteousness is often met with hostility. That’s why he continued that, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Dr. King often sacrificed his freedom in the pursuit of righteousness. He was arrested some 30 times for peacefully standing against injustice. Whether it was sitting on a bus in Montgomery or marching across a bridge in Selma, Dr. King was not afraid to stand with those who were persecuted.

On October 19, 1960, he joined a group of students at a sit-in at the lunch counter at Rich’s Department Store – just five blocks from where we sit today. He was arrested for that stand.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., devoted his life to seeing our state and our nation become a place where righteousness is reality – where race is neither an obstacle nor an aide in seeking opportunity.

When it comes to righteousness, we know we still have a long road ahead of us. We still have people and groups who cling to prejudice and whose hearts are filled with hatred. We still have barriers to opportunity that make it difficult for our brothers and sisters to achieve the American Dream.

But I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful because Dr. King didn’t just break down barriers, he inspired a movement. Beside and behind him marched leaders like Ambassador Andrew Young and Congressman John Lewis.

Following in his footsteps was one of my dearest friends, the Dean of the Georgia House of Representatives, Calvin Smyre. Representative Smyre was responsible for having Dr. King’s birthday recognized as a state holiday. He was also a leader in the effort to honor Dr. King’s legacy with the statue we dedicate today.

Many of our yesterdays – whether they be 400 years ago, 50 years ago or 2 weeks ago – are dark and stained with prejudice, hate and evil. We can not reclaim or change those days. But we can learn and grow from them. We can rededicate ourselves to those ideals that lift all of us up together.

Georgia is a better place because of Dr. King. America is a better place because of Dr. King. So long as there are people who will dedicate themselves to the peaceful pursuit of righteousness, our best days are surely ahead of us.

That’s why it is so fitting that Dr. King’s statue faces the East. This statue will see the dawn of every new day in Georgia. It will stand watch as we continue to strive for the righteousness that each and every citizen deserves.

To help mark this important milestone in our state’s history, I would like to introduce to you all a dear friend of mine: the Dean of the Georgia House of Representatives Calvin Smyre.

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