Of course I was religious. I grew up in the church. My father is a preacher, my grandfather was a preacher, my great-grandfather was a preacher, my only brother is a preacher, my daddy's brother is a preacher. So I didn't have much choice.--Martin Luther King, Jr.
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.