A January 2009 trip
to Atlanta by Wildcat Dianne
Quote: Mom and I took another adventure to Georgia to see family, and Mom and I took a day trip to Atlanta to see the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center and several other haunts of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Civil Rights Leader.
Mom and my final stop on the tour of Martin Luther King, Jr's life in Atlanta ended at his birthplace 501 Auburn Avenue. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in this 1895 Victorian home on January 15, 1929 and was baptised a block away at the old Ebenezer Baptist Church in February 1929. Before Martin's birth, the house belonged to his maternal grandparents, Reverend A.D. Williams and Jennie Williams, and Martin, Jr's parents moved into the house after their marriage in 1926. After Martin's grandmother died in 1941, the family moved to a house on Boulevard, but the house remained in the family name and was converted into a duplex that Dr. King, Jr's brother lived in for a time during the 1950's and 1960's.
The block on Auburn Avenue where Martin Luther King, lived for his first 12 years has been going under an extensive restoration of its houses since the early 1990's, and it is still going on today. Mom and I walked past a multi-family home at the beginning of King's block and it was in pretty rough shape with broken windows and sagging porches, but I am sure that it will be restored to its former glory in the future. Several other homes in the neighborhood have been restored and are home to low-income families and other Atlanta residents. I was so impressed with this restoration project and the beautiful architecture that I originally skipped Martin Luther King's birthplace and had to turn around to find it. In fact, I thought his house was a different color and took pictures of it without looking at the plaque at the steps leading to the house. DUH!
Across the street from MLK's birthplace are a row of shotgun houses that were built at the end of the 19th century and were home to African-American laborers. It was also a place of activism and violence and several times, the police were called to these shotgun houses to break up union meetings and strikes for better wages and treatment of African-American workers who lived in the area. Today, they are home to low-income and other residents of Atlanta. It's well worth a few minutes to check these houses out and read the plaques in front of them.
Mom and I arrived too late for a guided tour (the only way you can see the inside of Martin Luther King's Birthplace) of the interior of the home, but we learned a lot from walking around the neighborhood and outside the home and walked the same sidewalks that Martin Luther King, Jr. used to walk as a child.
If you are interested in touring the exterior of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthhome, you can make reservations by telephone or on the Internet. The tours start from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center further up the road on Auburn and are free of charge. There are signs along Auburn Avenue pointing out important aspects of African-American life and King's life along the way and remember that this is still an active neighborhood and to respect their ways and properties. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Birth Home is highly recommended to visit during your time in Atlanta.
On April 4, 1968, while in Memphis, Tennessee giving a sermon to striking workers there, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray, a white supremacist who was against desegregation and Martin Luther King's activism. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as he was standing outside his room at the Lorraine Hotel with Jesse Jackson and other Civil Rights activists, and one of the most moving pictures of history is the photo of Dr. King lying dead in a pool of blood while Reverend Jackson and the others point up to the location of James Earl Ray's sniper position.
After Dr. King's assassination, his body was brought back to Atlanta for the funeral and burial. His funeral was held in the Old Ebenezer Baptist Church where King had preached from 1960-1968, but he was originally buried in South View Cemetery near his family. In 1977, Dr. King's remains were moved to its current place in the plaza between Ebenezer Baptist Church and The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center. There is a reflecting pool surrounding his grave along with an eternal flame in front.
Coretta Scott King was buried next to her husband on February 7, 2006 after spending decades continuing her husband's cause. Mom and I visited the tomb after touring the center and Ebenezer Baptist Church, and it was very moving for both of us. Although I was only 26 days short of my first birthday in 1968, I have always been moved by Dr. King and his non-violent search for peace and equality for all, and visiting his grave was a dream come true for me and my mother who spent a short period of her life working in Washington, DC in the 1960's and saw what segregation was like there.
The wind made the eternal flame in front of Dr. King's tomb hard to see, but we could hear the whoosh of the gas and once in a while a spark or flare of flame would show up. People have thrown coins into the reflecting pool to give them luck and peace, but I just made a sign of the cross as a sign of respect before Mom and I left for Martin Luther King, Jr's Birthplace. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center and sites have left an indelible impression that I will remember for the rest of my life.
After Mom and I finished touring inside the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center and its awesome museum, Mom and I headed outside to continue visiting Martin Luther King's neighborhood in downtown Atlanta. The park surrounding the MLK Center facing Auburn Avenue is beautifully laid out, and Mom and I enjoyed the unusually warm January weather to wander around the grounds before heading to the other sites. On the grounds is a gorgeous statue by a local sculptor of Kunta Kinte, the descendant of Roots author Alex Haley, in that famous pose where he holds up his baby daughter during its baptism and says "BEHOLD!" That is also the name of the statue, and I loved the picture I took of it so much that I had it enlarged for my photo wall in my bedroom.
After seeing the BEHOLD! Statue, Mom and I got our bearings and started to look for the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King, Jr. preached (1960-1968) along with his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and brother before him. We saw the new Ebenezer Baptist Church on the center grounds next door, and it took us a minute to look around and find the Old Ebenezer Baptist Church was located across the street on Auburn Avenue. So off Mom and I went to check out the church and learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his life as a preacher.
The Old Ebenezer Baptist Church was built in the Gothic Revival style of architecture in 1922, and Martin Luther King, Sr., the father, became pastor in 1931 succeeding his father-in-law A.D. Williams. Martin Luther King, Jr. became pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1960, and the church became the center of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and hosted many meetings and rallies during the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave some of his most stirring sermons at Ebenezer Baptist Church including the 1965 "American Dream" sermon and his last sermon at Ebenezer called "Unfulfilled Dreams" in March 1968. Although by the time of Dr. King's assassination the congregation had moved across the road to the New Ebenezer Baptist Church, his funeral was held inside the old church as a "farewell to his spiritual home."
Today, the Old Ebenezer Baptist Church is open to the public for tours and special occasions, but when Mom and I visited the Old Ebenezer Baptist Church this January, it was closed for renovations and restoration. The restoration began in 2007 and will be turning the church interior to its glory days in the 1950's and 1960's.
It was a bummer that we couldn't go inside the church, but Mom and I made the best of it and went inside the rectory next door to tour the gift shop and look at the collage of photos on the entrance wall that shows all of the pastors who preached at Ebenezer. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a small photo on the top of the collage and not in a big 8 x 10 glossy apart from the other pastors. He was considered an ordinary person and this collage shows this.
After touring the rectory of the old church and taking pictures, Mom and I went across the road to the New Ebenezer Baptist Church. Built in the 1950's, the new sanctuary was bigger than the old sanctuary and housed the growing number of people attending the church to hear Dr. King's sermons. A plaque is to the left of the main entrance naming the pastors who preached at Ebenezer including several members of the King family. After Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination in 1968 followed another tragedy to the family in 1971 when his mother Alberta was shot to death by a crazed person while playing the piano during Sunday services.
During the day of our visit, a health fair was being held in the church entryway, and no one was allowed to go inside the sanctuary. However, the sanctuary can be seen through the plate glass windows that line the wall in the entry hall.
Ebenezer Baptist Church is open daily for tours and is free of charge. You can tour the church when services aren't going on or attend a service to experience what it was like to attend this historical church during Martin Luther King's time.
Last summer, I wanted to see the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Site in Atlanta, but my cousin and aunt discouraged us from going saying it was in a bad part of town. I felt it was a case of their being prejudice and left Georgia really ticked off that I didn't get to see the place. I told Mom I would take her to Georgia in January to visit the family, but we needed to visit the Martin Luther King NHS irregardless of what the family says is a bad neighborhood or not.
So leaving the sniffling and coughing aunt at home in Douglasville to drain snot out of her head into a trash bucket and the cousin and her brat off to the mall with her ex-girlfriend, Mom and I took off for Atlanta on a chilly Saturday morning. After about a half-hour driving on I-20 and 1-75/85, we got off Exit 248C and easily found the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Site thanks to signs marking the way to the place.
After parking the car in the huge parking lot leading to the center, Mom and I began our odyssey to learn more about the great Civil Rights Leader and Nobel Peace Prize activist. Our trip began along a path called The International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. This path was created in 2004 by Xernora Clayton, a civil rights icon and activist and is lined with several plaques of African-American activists and their supporters with their footprints embedded into their plaques below their names. Mom and I spent a good few minutes walking this path reading the names and putting our feet up to the footprints of some of the most famous names in History including Bill Clinton, Bishop Desmond Tutu ("My Bishop Tutu has such little feet!", Mom and I mused), Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc.
The path leads to the Ghandi Promenade and a statue of the Indian activist who peacefully sought rights for the Indian people and independence from Great Britain until his untimely assassination in 1948. After taking pictures of the statue and reading the passage engraved on the statue, Mom and I went inside the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center where there is an emotional and awesome gallery about his life and work in bringing equality to the African-Americans of the South.
The photos and memorabilia hit you like a line drive with its emotional tales of lynchings and other horrible things done to African-Americans in the South after the Civil War. An African-American in the South couldn't even say "Hi!" to a white woman without a charge of rape coming afterwards, and one unfortunate African-American from Chicago found out the hard way that calling a white woman a "Babe" got himself put and jail and hanged by a lynch mob in the 1950's.
The most moving parts of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center were the statues of people of all races and creeds marching across a "bridge to freedom and equality." Located in the middle of the museum, one can walk along these statues depicting an African-American woman, a handicapped man, a child, and other people who have suffered indignation in our nation.
Well I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I have been to the mountaintop. . .Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the Memphis Mason Temple--April 3, 1968.
As Mom and I toured the center, we could hear recordings of Dr. King's speeches and sermons he made throughout his life, and I was brought to tears when I came up to the display depicting the last 24 hours of Martin Luther King's life. I have always gotten emotional when I hear his stirring "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, and that day in the Martin Luther King Center was no exception. There is a clock on this display that is stopped at 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, when the bullet fired by James Earl Ray ended Martin Luther King's life on the balcony of that Memphis hotel, and the photo of Jesse Jackson and the others pointing towards the sniper's position put me into an emotional tailspin.
You cannot take photos of the Gallery in the Center that holds the simple wooden coffin and wagon that took Martin Luther King, Jr. to his final resting place down the street, but looking at it will engrave that memory in my head forever.
After touring the museum, Mom and I went into the gift shop where I bought Martin Luther King's autobiography along with a parchment copy of his stirring I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech on the eve of his death. There are also t-shirts, coffee mugs, and children's literature on sale in the shop.
Admission to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Site is free of charch and open from 8-5 daily except for holidays. The Center and the surrounding Martin Luther King, Jr. sites including his birthplace and grave are on Auburn Avenue and are in a still residential area of Atlanta. So respect the rights of the residents who live here and don't tromp all over their lawns to see a part of American History. For those who are concerned about the neighborhood the center sits in, there are park rangers from the National Park Services walking around the center and on Auburn Avenue to keep folks safe and to answer any questions or give directions to visitors to the area. Next time you are in the Atlanta area, please take the a morning or afternoon to visit this emotional and most awesome place in American History. Hell, I would come back again just to experience the whole experience again!
Restaurant | "Lunchtime at the Superior Fish Company"
About a block away from the New Ebenezer Baptist Church, Mom and I discovered a little fish restaurant on Auburn Avenue that looked like good, so we decided lunch was going to be at The Superior Fish Company (SFC). I had eaten fish and chips the day before at Folks in Douglasville, and I didn't think another fish and chips lunch was going to sprout gills on me.
Mom and I entered SFC and there were no tables in the place for one to eat at. There is just a counter to order at and the menu board, and you can sit on the two benches in front of the restaurant while waiting for your food. No worries, I suggested to Mom we return to the Martin Luther King Center and eat outside in the park surrounding the center. Problem solved.
SFC has a good selection of fried fish and chicken and for those not wanting to blow their diet, they have grilled fish to keep you on track. I can eat grilled fish at home when I am watching the girlish figure and wanted Fish and Chips. Mom and I both got the Chicken and Fish Combos ($5.99) and stepped aside to wait for our food.
SFC is located across the street from the First Baptist Church that was built in 1869, which is a nice view for the employees of the SFC. While waiting for our food to be prepared, I ran outside to get a picture of the church. While waiting for our food, a local came in and wondered if we were ready for winter in Mom's poncho and my long sweater coat. It had been chilly in the morning when we left Douglasville, but by early afternoon it had warmed up nicely, but we didn't take our covers off. I joked to the guy that this weather was balmy compared to the snow and cold of Idaho, and the guy said he loved the snow. "You wouldn't love it after dealing with it waist high in Idaho, pal!" He laughed with me, and I said, "Where we were in Idaho, you didn't shovel snow, you scooped it, and I don't miss it now that we are living in Pensacola." After a nice chat with that man, he left, and our food was ready. The girl behind the counter asked where we were from, and I told her I was born and raised in Rhode Island but lived in Idaho for 16 years and just relocated to Pensacola. The girl was all excited and said that she lived in Rhode Island growing up, and we had a nice little chat with her about Rhode Island sites and beaches before saying good-bye and returning back to the Martin Luther King Center to enjoy our lunch.
Mom and I found a seat near the center entrance and dug into our Fish and Chicken Combos. Oh man, the fish was a nice piece of whole fish and not mystery fish, and that and the chicken and fries were hot and fresh out of the oil. The fish and chicken weren't heavily breaded and the entire meal wasn't greasy and the portions were just right for a nice picnic lunch and filled us nicely. The atmosphere of dining in the face of history made the meal pleasant for both Mom and me.
Superior Fish Company is a short walking distance from The Martin Luther King Center and is open daily from 10-10, but it is closed on Sundays. It's good if you are working in downtown Atlanta or visiting the King Center and sites. It serves locals and tourists alike, and the prices are right. Mom and I are glad we found this place and highly recommend it for anyone who visits Atlanta.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 15, 2009