If you are visiting Atlanta, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was born, raised, and buried, take the time to visit these two Civil Rights Museums. If you think these lessons aren’t important anymore, just watch the news. It’s been 50 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., but we still see hatred and bigotry in the world around us.
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
This is my second trip to Atlanta and these museums. It really is impossible to absorb all the lessons in one visit. I only have photos from outside because while I was inside viewing the exhibits, I tried to be fully present. I also don’t feel like any of my photos could do the incredibly moving displays justice. I’m afraid my words won’t either, but I’m going to try.
Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Park
Here at this 35-acre historic site you can visit Martin Luther King Jr’s birth home, the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he delivered his first sermon, as well as the King Center where he and Mrs. Coretta Scott King are entombed. While spending time here, my heart hurt at the injustices I was reminded of, but I was also in awe of Dr. King and the men and women who stood up to the hatred and oppression.
Arrive here early to be sure you can get a ticket the the Birth Home Tour. They are conducted on the hour from 10am to 4pm and only 15 visitors can go per tour.
Then take your time to explore his facility which houses several exhibits and shows three different 30-minute films throughout the day.
One of the exhibits, named “Children of Courage,” is geared towards younger visitors. It tells the story about the children of the Civil Rights Movement with a challenge to our youth today.
The D.R.E.A.M Gallery hosts special exhibits that change periodically. This year, the 50th Anniversary of his death, the exhibit is “The Road From Memphis to Atlanta,” which chronicles the days from Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination in Memphis to his funeral in Atlanta. The most significant artifact is the timeworn funeral wagon that mules Belle and Ada pulled on April 9, 1968, from Ebenezer Baptist to Morehouse College, King’s alma mater, for his final funeral service.
The featured exhibit entitled “Courage To Lead” uses multimedia presentations to highlight the works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and chronicle the Civil Rights Movement.
The cozy, yellow, two-story clapboard house with dark brown trim was purchased by King’s grandfather in 1909 for $3,500. It has been restored to the period when a young Martin lived here and much of the furnishings are original. Upstairs, in his parents’ bedroom, the mantel clock is permanently set to noon, the exact time Martin was born there.
Ebenezer Baptist Church
Just down the block from Dr. King’s birth home is the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he was baptized. The sanctuary has been restored to reflect the 1960’s when he followed his father and maternal grandfather, the Rev. Martin Luther “Daddy” King Sr. and the Rev. A.D. Williams, to its pulpit. You can sit down in a pew during your visit in this the historic church and listen to a recorded sermon.
Across the street is the King Center, the institution founded by King’s widow Coretta Scott King to carry on his work. On the second floor of Freedom Hall is utilized an exhibit space honoring Dr. and Mrs. King, Mahatma Gandhi and Rosa Parks. Outside you’ll be able to pay your respects at the tombs of King and his wife amid its Reflecting Pool. Sit a moment at the Eternal Flame, which symbolizes the continuing effort to realize Dr. King’s dream of the “Beloved Community,” his vision for a world of justice, peace and equality for all mankind.
Fire Station No. 6
In an exhibit inside the 1894 Fire Station No. 6, another of the historic site’s restored gems, visitors can find information on how the “Sweet Auburn” neighborhood prospered in the harsh wake of the Atlanta’s 1906 race riots that strengthened the grip of Jim Crow restrictions and segregation. By 1930, not long after King’s birth, the district boasted 121 black-owned businesses. However, all firefighters were white because African Americans were not allowed to serve in this role in Atlanta until 1962.
On my next visit to Atlanta, I plan to make a stop at the the APEX Museum, where exhibits tell Sweet Auburn’s story, dating from the mid-1800s.
Sweet Auburn Curb Market
A few blocks away is the Sweet Auburn Curb Market where you’ll find a combination of history and amazing food. The name reflects the history of racial segregation when whites owned shops inside the market, and blacks were only permitted to sell from stalls lining the curb. Inside you’ll find independently-owned businesses including restaurants, butchers, bakeries, and produce stands. My personal favorite is Miss D’s Pralines, which are packed with Georgia pecans and are mixed and poured by hand.
National Center for Civil and Human Rights
This museum not only focuses on the challenges and progress of the civil rights movement in the United States, but also includes the broader worldwide human rights movement.
Fairly new (it opened in 2014), the exhibits make use of technology to educate and evoke an emotional response. One of the most powerful is the lunch counter. Reminiscent of the lunch counter protests of the Civil Rights movement, visitors sit at the counter, put on headphones, and listen with eyes closed to voices shouting in their ears. I thought I was prepared, but as the countertop shook I could almost feel the angry mob breathing down my back. I cried just at the mere thought of the hatred endured. It only took a minute and a half to shake me to the core and give me a glimmer of understanding for the bravery these protestors possessed to stand their ground in the face of hate and violence.
This museum also includes exhibits on worldwide human rights. It highlights the defenders of human rights, and showcase the world’s worst human rights offenders. The Spark of Conviction exhibit chronicles the fight for human rights around the world. It contains an interactive piece where visitors can choose a particular trait they have (like their gender or skin color) and see how they would be persecuted for that trait around the world. The exhibits also give you food for thought by talking about the human rights impacts of our consumer choices around goods like soccer balls, chocolate, and coffee.
Share Your Story
Have you been to one of these museums? Or another civil rights museum not on this list? Tell us about your experience in the comments. Click here to read about my visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.