When taking a trip to Atlanta, one must visit the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, sometimes referred to as the MLK National Park. Visitors see where Dr. King was born, lived, worked, worshiped, and is buried. My time at the historic site was powerful. Hearing messages of peace from nearby loudspeakers, I paid my respects at the crypts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. I wept internally at humankind’s capacity for hate. But I smiled as I turned and saw an eternal flame burning brightly. It reminded me that although human struggle may be eternal, so too will love and the fight for equality. Looking beyond the fire, I saw a statue of a man holding up an infant and was comforted by the fact that a new generation would carry on King’s mission.
The National Historic Site is comprised of several buildings, landmarks, and points of interest in the Sweet Auburn area of Atlanta. Dr. King was born and raised in a neighborhood bordering the historic district which has Auburn Avenue as a prominent street…hence the nickname of “Sweet Auburn” for the area. Sweet Auburn featured black-owned businesses and places of worship. In a time where segregation was enforced by Georgia law and society and there were few avenues for African American economic mobility, Sweet Auburn was a place where African Americans achieved economic and cultural prominence.
Places in the National Historical Park
- Fire Station Number 6—built in 1894, it served the Sweet Auburn community.
- Visitor’s Center—exhibits within tell the story of the Civil Rights Movement including how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became the leader he was and how the Civil Rights Movement grew on a parallel track. This is where you can register for a ranger-led “Birth Home” Tour. Near the Visitor Center you can view a Gandhi Statue and walk through the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame.
- The King Center—Mrs. Coretta Scott King established The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change to preserve the legacy of her husband. You can see the crypts of both Mrs. and Dr. King in the reflecting pool. While pondering the great change they fomented, you can also view the Eternal Flame. Enter Freedom Hall to see exhibits on other inspiring leaders for social justice like Gandhi and Rosa Parks.
- Ebenezer Baptist Church—this church was where Dr. King and his father both preached. At the church you can listen to the sermons of Dr. King, browse exhibits about the church’s history, and listen to Dr. Christine King Ferris (Dr. King’s sister) talk about her family. It is also a good place to ponder the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which coordinated nonviolent protest groups and black churches and grew under the leadership of Dr. King. SCLC started with meetings at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
- Birth Home—touring the MLK birth home gives one a better idea of the life Dr. King lived growing up. The guides are very knowledgeable and provide great insight. I was surprised at his family’s level of affluence. The home was spacious with lovely furnishings, which was a good thing as preacher’s families were expected to house strangers traveling throughout the area. At that time, it was difficult for African Americans to rent hotel rooms.
- International World Peace Rose Gardens—the gardens border the Peace Plaza in front of the Visitor Center. The Atlanta garden is one of five major World Peace Rose Gardens around the world. The others are in Sacramento, California, Assisi, Italy, Mexico City, Mexico, and Pacific Palisades, California. Each focuses on a different aspect of peace.
- Behold Monument—according to the MLK, Jr. National Historical Site website, the monument “commemorates the historic principles that guided the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr….Sculptor, Patrick Morelli, was inspired by the ancient African ritual of lifting a newborn child to the heavens and reciting the words: behold the only thing greater than yourself.”
When you are done touring the historical park, I suggest hopping on a street car to cross the highway and ride over to another section of Sweet Auburn. Sweet Auburn Street was known as the richest black street in America and several historic buildings remain from its heyday. Murals of prominent civil rights leaders punctuate the neighborhood honoring those who fought for equality. Visitors can see many historic buildings, including Big Bethel AME (the oldest African-American congregation in the area) and the Curb Market. Lunching at the Market is a treat! The scent of barbecue, baked goods, and fragrant spices are sure to make you salivate and crave all the goods within. Pulled pork tacos, pecan pie, and other elements of traditional southern cuisine, as well as Latin American and Caribbean food are all on the menu.
Dr. King’s quest for civil rights and social justice changed American society for the better. It is an informative and inspiring to learn more about his life and him as a person and should definitely be a spot to visit on your next trip to Atlanta. Happy historical travels!
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