Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Webpage: National Park
General Description: Established in 1980, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site is located near downtown Atlanta in the “Sweet Auburn” neighborhood in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. grew up in during the 1930s and 40s. Born in a time of segregation, his childhood was not typical for an African-American growing up in the deep south. While the Sweet Auburn neighborhood was a segregated neighborhood following the race riots in Atlanta in 1906 when the white families moved out of the neighborhood, it was a mix of working black families and black owned shops and businesses. Since many white-owned businesses, for instance restaurants, either refused to do business with blacks or required them to use the back rooms and alleys to conduct business, there was a rise of black owned and operated business in the early 1900s in these segregated neighborhoods in Atlanta, such as Sweet Auburn. In 1956, Fortune magazine called Sweet Auburn “the richest Negro street in the world.” Therefore, when Martin Luther King, Jr., called ML, was born in 1929 he grew up in a relatively prosperous neighborhood. In addition, his family stressed the importance of an education, both academically and spiritually. His grandfather, the Reverend A.D. Williams was the second pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church and his father, Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr co-pastor and eventually pastor, were both community leaders on social justice in Atlanta. Discrimination and social injustice were part of daily life in Atlanta under the Jim Crow laws and were a major influence on his early life. As a school teacher, his mother taught ML along with his sister Christine and brother Alfred Daniels (AD) to read before they entered school. MLK Jr did so well that he skipped the first and last years of high school and entered Morehouse College at age 15. Building on his roots formed growing up in Sweet Auburn, MLK Jr went on to become our nation’s greatest Civil Rights Leader. The National Park Service is still in the process of buying historical homes in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood and restoring them to their former prosperous conditions. Currently the Historic Sites consists of 35 properties including a Visitor Center with a museum that chronicles the Civil Rights Movement, Firehouse 6 that was the first desegregated firehouse in Atlanta in 1963, the “I Have A Dream” International World Peace Rose Garden, the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change that includes MLK Jr gravesite, Freedom Hall, Ebenezer Baptist Church, and homes along Auburn Avenue including MLK Jr. home, shotgun row houses, Victorian houses, the Alexander Hamilton House, the Atlanta Baptist Preparatory Institute site, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Colored Mission, and the “Triangle Building” at the intersection of Old Wheat St. and Auburn Avenue.
1) Expecting only a Visitor Center, MLK Jr. home, and Ebenezer Baptist Church, we were amazed by the extent of the Historic Site. It covers over two full blocks of homes, businesses, and churches along Auburn Avenue.
2) The Visitor Center is a beautiful building with an extensive museum of the Civil Rights Movement that parallels Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s adult life. They show a series of short movies about different important milestones of the Civil Rights Movement.
3) The International World Peace Rose Garden would certainly be impressive during the summer. In early March, the rose bushes had all been cut back and had not yet bloomed.
4) There are Ranger guided tours of MKL Jr. home that are limited to 15 people each hour. Therefore, they can fill up quickly. On a cold and windy day in early March, we had no trouble getting tickets for the next tour. I strongly recommend the tour as we learned more about his childhood then we would have otherwise and it was a valuable addition to our understanding of this great man. It was good to know that he had a “normal” childhood filled with pranks and baseball, although his environment was better then many African-Americans in the early 1900s. To know his father and grandfather were community leaders on social injustice and civil rights, yet coming from a religious background of love and nonviolence is important.
5) We did not have time to visit Freedom Hall and the reflecting pool and tomb were not as impressive as they would be on a sunny day.
6) Firehouse No. 6 was interesting with its 1920s fire engine. Reading the exhibits about the history of the fire station and segregation in the fire department was informative. We learned that even after the firehouse was desegregated in the 1960s, African-American firemen had to pay for their own training, when they could even find anyone to train them. So even though there was a change politically, African-Americans were still being discriminated against, which I am sorry to say persists today.
7) The Ebenezer Baptist Church has been restored to its condition in the 1960s. The sanctuary with stained glass windows is magnificent, although smaller than I thought it would be. In the basement we had the opportunity to listen to a presentation of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech from a family sanctioned orator. They no longer hold services in this church, now known as the “Heritage Church”. They have built a new and much larger church across Auburn Avenue, next to the Visitor Center, known as the “Horizon Church.”