January 20, 2009 will be a great moment in American History when Barack Obama will be sworn into office as the first African-American President of the United States of America. If only Martin Luther King, Jr. was alive to see this momentous time in our history.
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 main entrance to the Martin Luther King Center has posters of Dr. King along with restrooms and a gift shop for one to peruse at their own pleasure, but Mom and I wanted to go into the museum and learn more about this fascinating man and his struggle for human rights. Mom and I were not disappointed.
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!