Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site

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A visit to Atlanta isn’t complete without seeing a neighborhood where history was made, and the attitudes of the nation were forever changed.  The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site preserves Dr. King’s church and birth home, and it’s where he and his wife were laid to rest.

The visitor center is a good place to start your visit.  Exhibits do a great job of helping you imagine the volatile South, during the civil rights struggle.  “The Freedom Road” exhibit cuts through the middle of the room.  It honors the everyday people who served as “foot soldiers” in the movement.  To the left and right, areas are dedicated to the banners and signs carried by protesters, and clips of Dr. King’s speeches play on televisions.

Directly across the street…

… is The King Center.  It was established by Coretta Scott King in 1968 as a living memorial to her husband.  The King Center houses a massive library and archive of items related to the civil rights movement.  It’s also where you’ll find this reflecting pool…

… and the tomb that holds Dr. King and Coretta.

Dr. King’s old church, Ebenezer Baptist, is located next-door to The King Center.

You’re allowed to walk inside, sit in the pews…

… and stand in front of the pulpit where Dr. King’s powerful sermons helped inspire the fight for equality.  It’s truly a humbling experience.

Just up the street from everything else, about a half-block east on Auburn Avenue, you’ll find the home where Dr. King was born.  Tours are free, but they are limited to 15 people at a time, with groups gathering every half-hour.  If you’d like to go on one of these tours, you should get your tickets at the visitor center, as soon as you arrive.

Dr. King lived in this home until he was 12 years old.

The “Sweet Auburn” neighborhood’s Fire Station #6 is also preserved as part of the historic site.  You’re free to walk inside here, too…

… and check out the old fire truck…

… and telegraph machine, that was connected to fire alarms around the neighborhood.   You can also learn about efforts to desegregate Atlanta’s fire department.

Getting There

I decided to walk from Centennial Olympic Park to the MLK historic site.  It probably would have been easier to drive, but I didn’t want to give up my one-price-for-all-day parking spot.  I also could have taken the MARTA train, but I figured I’d end up walking about as far (the station is .6 miles away from the visitor center), and I’d have to pay for the ride.  So, I hoofed it down Edgewood Avenue.

Walking through this area might not be the safest choice, especially if you’re an obvious tourist carrying an expensive camera (you know, like me).  The walk requires you to pass underneath Interstate 75/85, under a massive bridge that feels more like a tunnel (the freeway is about 14 lanes wide at this point).  There were some sketchy people standing around, but also some police officers.

Walking along Edgewood Avenue does give you the chance to see a few interesting attractions along the way…

… like this statue of John Wesley Dobbs. Dobbs was a civic leader and considered to be the unofficial “mayor” of Auburn Avenue.

Appropriately enough, the statue is called “Through His Eyes”, and you can step inside the head to peer out on Auburn Avenue.

Inside the face mask, several quotes from Dobbs are inscribed, including this one: “All the negro wants is an equal opportunity for education (the book), jobs (the buck), and the vote (the ballot); factors necessary to ennoble and advance a race of people.”

Despite decades of progress, things are still rough on Auburn Avenue.  This old staircase used to be sandwiched in between two buildings.  Now, one of the buildings is gone, and a tree grows in the middle of the stairs.

In removing that other building, an interesting patchwork of design is revealed — a combination of ghost signs, graffiti, and urban ruins, which I found to be quite intriguing.

I kept walking, eventually arriving back at Centennial Olympic Park.  I was quite thirsty, having avoided buying any beverages the entire afternoon.  Now, if there was just some place where I could get a soda…

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