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Atlanta in the Spotlight

FROM CIVIL RIGHTS TO THE FAR-RIGHT: ATLANTA REMAINS IN THE SPOTLIGHT

This week, Congressman John Lewis and President-elect Donald Trump have engaged in a very public war of words over Trump’s response to Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election. Lewis, who represents Georgia’s fifth Congressional District which includes Atlanta, has questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency in light of Russia’s interference in the election, and has said that he will not attend Trump’s inauguration. Never one to ignore a slight, Trump called Lewis a man of all talk and no action, and told him to start working on his district, which Trump characterized as horrible, falling apart, and crime-infested.

A feud between one of Atlanta’s most famous native sons and the President-elect in the very same week as the national holiday honoring another of Atlanta’s most revered native sons, set against the backdrop of the President-elect denigrating the hometown of those historic figures, is an interesting juxtaposition. Congressman Lewis’ efforts on behalf of civil rights are well known, from the days of the march in Selma when he was savagely beaten trying to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, through to the recent nonviolent protests in support of immigration reform and gun control. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has said that Lewis is the “only former major civil rights leader who extended his fight for human rights and racial reconciliation to the halls of Congress.” He is often viewed as the conscience of Congress.

Lewis’ nonviolent protests and activism were a hallmark of a man he met when only 18 years old, Martin Luther King, Jr. King was born in Atlanta, and became a Baptist minister and civil rights activist who had a huge impact on race relations in the U.S. from the mid-1950s until his death by assassination in 1968. King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech in August 1963, during the March on Washington. He played a critical role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The national holiday celebrated in his honor is observed on the third Monday of January of each year, near his birthday of January 15.

These two icons of the civil rights movement were both born in Atlanta. Lewis has represented Atlanta in Congress for thirty years—since 1987, which is one year after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was first officially observed. Contrary to the soon-to-be president’s depiction of Lewis’ district, Atlanta’s downtown and main business district include major corporate headquarters and places of learning: Coca-Cola Company, Delta Airlines, Georgia Tech, Emory Univ., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to name a few. While crime, unemployment and income insecurity are problems in Atlanta like in all major cities, Atlanta was ranked number 12 on Forbes list of America’s Fastest-Growing Cities 2014. Atlanta is expected to continue its rapid population growth and add strong economic growth to it in the coming years.

Let’s hope that on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President-Elect Trump takes the opportunity afforded him to praise both of Atlanta’s civil rights icons and the city from which they hail.

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