STONE MOUNTAIN - Planning is under way to place a Liberty Bell replica atop Stone Mountain near Atlanta as a memorial to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that recalls a famous line from his "I Have a Dream" speech, officials say.
The planned tribute to the late civil rights activist would broaden the story told by the Georgia state park, long home to a giant carving of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, said Bill Stephens, chief executive of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association.
"Two years ago, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's speech, a small group of Georgia's civil rights leaders met atop the mountain to ring a bell," Stephens said in an email to journalists. "This began thought and discussions which evolved into the present concept of a Freedom Bell."
But a Confederate heritage group is opposing the idea. The group says the move would show disrespect to the Confederacy and could be illegal.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported in Sunday's editions that an elevated tower with a replica of the bell would recall a line from King's 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech: "Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia." The bell would sound from the mountain top, though when or how often hasn't been determined, the newspaper reported.
Because King's 1963 speech is copyrighted, permission of King's heirs would be required. Stephens said the planning was just beginning, and many details remain to be worked out.
"Discussions have taken place with the King family and are taking place now," Stephens told The Journal-Constitution. "Their initial reaction is very favorable. But we haven't completed those discussions yet."
The King monument would not replace any of the current monuments, which would remain, Stephens said.
Calls from The Associated Press to the King Center were not immediately returned Monday.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans, in a statement posted on its website, said erecting a King memorial atop the mountain would be "wholly inappropriate" and possibly illegal because the Georgia General Assembly designated the mountain a Confederate memorial in 1958.
The group, which advocates for Confederate symbols, compared placing anything other than a Confederate monument at the mountain to flying a Confederate flag atop the King Center in Atlanta.
"Both would be altogether inappropriate and disrespectful acts, repugnant to Christian people," said the statement.
Stone Mountain has a divisive history. The Ku Klux Klan once held notorious cross-burnings on the mountain. A display of Confederate flags near its base has drawn renewed criticism after the mass shooting in June that claimed nine lives at an historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Some critics have suggested in recent years that the enormous Confederate carving, larger than a football field with the Southern generals astride their horses, should be sand-blasted away. The carving was completed in 1972, more than 50 years after work began.