SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — Monday marked the 60th anniversary of Dr, Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. But there was something missing from Springfield: a statue of the late civil rights leader.
The statue was vandalized almost one year ago and the pedestal where the statue once stood has been empty ever since. The Office of the Architect of the Capitol said they are still reviewing the future of any statue in King’s likeness.
Community leaders hope to see something that honors King again in Springfield in the near future.
“My historical reminder tips that come on my phone reminded me of my daughter today on the way to school of today’s significance,” Cherena Douglass, co-director of Juneteenth Inc., said on Monday. “She kind of reminded me that ‘Mom, I get to go to school with people that look different than me!’”
Organizations in Springfield are reflecting on King’s message and said that while progress has been made, there is still a lot of work left to do.
“The dream, while we are living it, it is still not fully actualized and realized,” Douglass said.
Springfield honored King’s legacy with a statue on the State Capitol grounds, but for the last year, it’s been missing. Last September, the statue was toppled over; Fernando Garcia was arrested and charged with criminal damage to state property.
Garcia was released from the Sangamon County Jail a couple weeks ago after reaching a plea deal. He owes the state nearly $10,500 in restitution but got a more than $9,000 credit for the 320 days he served behind bars.
It is not the first time that the monument has faced defiance.
“The KKK actually came to Springfield, and other white supremacists, because they didn’t want it on state grounds,” said Teresa Haley, president of Springfield’s NCAAP branch. “So it was a victory for us here in Springfield, and everybody across the nation when we were able to get that statue here.”
The statue stood for nearly 30 years across the street from the State Capitol. It’s removal renewed calls in the community for a new one.
“However, while we’re waiting for it, put the old one back up until the new one is completed,” Haley said. “Because people forget if they don’t see it.”
Some in the community also think it deserves a new, more prominent home.
“The statue should be reminiscent of the work that Martin Luther King did, but also the work that’s necessary to come,” Douglass said. “And why it should also, again, be on the steps of the Capitol to show everyone that visits, protests, organizes, that we as Illinoisans stand for equality for all. Regardless of race, creed, color or religion.”
This year’s budget set aside $500,000 for the Architect of the Capitol to acquire, place and maintain Martin Luther King’s statue. It does not specify if it will be a new statue or the one that once stood.