Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. in Atlanta
As we mark the occasion of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this month, we pay tribute not only to the life and legacy of the great civil rights activist but to a key part of our country’s history.
As his birthplace, Atlanta is home to many significant sites from Dr. King’s life, all of them worth a place on your itinerary when you’re looking for an enlightening visit to the city.
Where to Pay Your Respects
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Home
The house where the future leader was born was his maternal grandparents’ home located at 501 Auburn Avenue NE. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s parents moved in with his mother’s family when they were married and lived in the house until 1941. Tours of the two-story house, located in the residential section of the Auburn Avenue Historic District, are conducted by the National Park Service.
Ebenezer Baptist Church
One block west, you’ll find this historic church, a pillar of the “Sweet Auburn” community. This is where Martin Luther King, Jr. was baptized as a child, ordained as a minister at age 19, and eulogized at his funeral. A visit to Ebenezer—where MLK served alongside his father as co-pastor from 1960–68—is a moving way to get to know the foundations of Dr. King’s spiritual beliefs.
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The King Center
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change was established by his wife Mrs. Coretta Scott King in 1968. After Mrs. King died in 2006, she was laid to rest in a new crypt alongside her husband, surrounded by a reflecting pool. The Center also houses The King Library and Archives, the world’s largest repository of materials on Dr. King and others who worked alongside him in the American Civil Rights Movement.
Where to Learn & Be Inspired
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National Center for Civil and Human Rights
Make sure you set aside some time for this one, because the Center for Civil and Human Rights stages in-depth, thought-provoking exhibitions filled with powerful images, artifacts and stories from the American civil rights movement and global human rights movements. Highlights include a collection of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s letters.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Statue at the Georgia Capitol
This eight-foot tall bronze statue of Dr. King was unveiled in 2017, 54 years after the minister gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. The statue was crafted by local artist Martin Dawe, who modeled it on a photo of King taken during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956. The statue faces Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and Liberty Plaza. At its dedication ceremony, State Representative David Ralston commented on the fact that Dr. King’s bronze likeness faces east, so, “He will see the dawn of every new day in Georgia.”
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Homage to King at the corner of Freedom Parkway at Boulevard
You’ll feel the power of this striking sculpture of Dr. King’s outstretched arm, hovering over the downtown skyline and welcoming you to the King National Historical Park. The piece, by Barcelona-born sculptor Xavier Medina-Campeny, was commissioned by the Cultural Legacy Initiative, as part of an Olympic city cultural exchange.
Where to Eat
At some point on your inspirational day of historical and political appreciation, you’ll want to stop and refuel with a delicious lunch. Here are a few tasty suggestions.
The Sweet Auburn Curb Market
One of your best bets is just a 12-minute walk from the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park — The Sweet Auburn Curb Market. The market is filled with the flavors of the South, as well as food from around the world. Fresh produce, burgers, pies, barbecue and soul food—it’s all here. The market is located inside the original Municipal Market building, which opened in 1924. The name was changed in the 1990s, to recognize both a time of segregation—when it opened, African Americans were only allowed to vend at the market along the curb—and the nickname of nearby Auburn Avenue, the one-time commercial and cultural hub of African American life in the city.
Mary Mac’s Tea Room
If your hunger hits while you’re exploring sites downtown, you can’t go past Mary Mac’s Tea Room, a beacon of Southern cooking in Atlanta. Mary Mac’s opened in 1945 with one dining room. Today, there are six dining rooms and a full-service bar to keep up with the loyal patrons and city visitors who’ve heard the raves about Mary Mac’s fried okra and sweet tea.
Now located in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood, Paschal’s began in the West End, where founders James and Robert Paschal opened a small luncheonette in 1947. By the 1960s, the restaurant, famous for its fried chicken had become a popular meeting place for politicians, entertainers and activists—including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Paschal Brothers were even known to post bond for arrested protesters during the civil rights movement. The current incarnation of Paschal’s opened in 2002, and you can still enjoy that famous fried chicken, along with other Southern favorites including peach cobbler.
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