Former Atlanta Mayor Reflects On MLK's Legacy
As a young college student, Shirley Franklin was in Washington, D.C. for Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. She went on to become the first African-American woman to serve as mayor of a major Southern city when she was elected mayor of Atlanta, Dr. King’s hometown, in 2002.
Today, Franklin, 69, is a visiting professor at the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Affairs and head of the nonprofit consulting firm Purpose Built Communities. She joined Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson on this holiday to talk about civil rights in 2015.
“Dr. King’s dream is still alive, and those of us who care about a better world better rededicate ourselves,” she said.
Interview Highlights: Shirley Franklin
On progress on civil rights since Dr. King’s assassination
“There’s no question, if you look throughout the South, that there is major change in the South in terms of the election of African-Americans and women and Latinas and gay political leaders. I mean, there’s no question that there’s been tremendous change. The question that we often grapple with though is whether it’s enough change, and I think many of us would say it’s not enough, but it certainly has changed a good bit.”
On the recent protests over police shootings
“We have not reached the beloved community that Dr. King talks about. I mean, clearly the [Eric] Garner case and the [Michael] Brown case and the Trayvon Martin case — these are all cases that indicate that there is still a lot of prejudice, a lot of fear and far too much violence in the United States. And sometimes that violence is perpetrated or used by people that we expect are going to protect us, and instead are harming us. So there’s no question that we have a long way to go, but I think it’s a mistake — especially when we’re celebrating Dr. King’s birthday and holiday — to act as if nothing has changed, because in fact a lot has changed.”
“Certainly the election of President Barack Obama started a conversation about a post-racial society in the United States. And those of us who had been paying attention to race and ethnicity and other issues of diversity know we are a long way from being post-racial or completely free of discrimination. So these cases we’re talking about remind us that we have a lot further to go, and unfortunately people lose their lives in the process. But I was elected mayor of Atlanta when I could not have been elected mayor of Atlanta when I was born, when I graduated from high school or when I graduated from college. So my life is a witness in many ways to that there have been changes. But does that mean that I don’t fear for young people who are coming up today? No, it doesn’t mean that at all.”
On how Martin Luther King, Jr. influenced her life
“There’s no question that I think it was a direct result of the efforts of Dr. King and Coretta King and really lots of other people. I went to the March on Washington as a college freshman at Howard University and I was inspired then by his words, not knowing that I would even move south some years later. I am reminded that he challenged us in 1963 to be a part of a revolutionary movement — a peaceful movement, a nonviolent movement — that would include people who not just looked like me, but that everyone in America would have the same kinds of opportunities that the more privileged had had.”
- Shirley Franklin, served as mayor of Atlanta from 2002 to 2010. She is chairman of the board and CEO of Purpose Built Communities, and the Barbara Jordan Visiting Professor in Ethics and Political Values in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. She tweets @ATLShirley.
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