The King portrait is expected to be moved in time for the state's observance of the King holiday on Jan. 13.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp said the portrait needed to be moved to make room for the new portrait of outgoing Gov. Sonny Perdue. Portraits of Perdue and former governors Roy Barnes and Zell Miller will be placed on the wall outside of the governor's office.
"We felt like it would be a good idea to find a permanent home for it so when we're doing tours, it's always in the same place," said Kemp. "It's a bigger area and it's better lit. It's a more prominent location."
Kemp said the new location should be final and will prevent the painting from having to be moved to make space for new gubernatorial portraits. The secretary of state's office is in charge of the Capitol Museum and decides where to place portraits in the building.
Gordon Joyner, executive director and administrator of the state's Civil Rights Department at the Commission on Equal Opportunity, objected to the move on Friday in a hand-delivered letter to Kemp's office.
"I respectfully submit this letter beseeching you to reverse this decision and action and immediately restore Dr. King's portrait to its appropriate, long-held and familiar location," the letter reads. "Return Dr. King's portrait to its position of deserved prominence in our Capitol for all of the people of Georgia and the world to see."
The painting is the second version of the civil rights icon to hang in the state Capitol. The first was displayed in 1973 during the administration of then-Gov. Jimmy Carter over the protests of the Ku Klux Klan, said Rep. Tyrone Brooks, who at the time was working at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
that King co-founded.
Brooks recalled that Klan members broke into the Capitol and slashed the painting, which was redone and unveiled in the Capitol rotunda the following year. That portrait is now on loan to the Woodruff Library at the Atlanta University Center.
The new portrait was unveiled in 2006. It will now move to the north wing. Kemp said its new location will also include a display with information about the civil rights movement in Georgia and King's life.
Brooks said he isn't rushing to judgment about why the painting is being moved.
"If the King family is satisfied with the move, then I'll be satisfied with the move," said Brooks, adding that Kemp should explain to the King family why the portrait is being relocated.
A call to The King Center seeking comment from Martin Luther King III was not immediately returned on Friday.
State Sen. Vincent Fort expressed concern over the portrait's new location and the timing of the move. He said the public and others should have been consulted before a decision was made.
"I would've preferred for it to stay where it was," Fort said. "It's unfortunate that with the birthday and holiday approaching that his portrait is being moved to a less prominent position. If it had to be moved, I would've preferred that it stayed close to the governor's office."