Martin Luther King Jr.’s Atlanta
Thousands of visitors venture to Atlanta each year to pay tribute to King’s legacy. Since 1980 the National Park Service has maintained the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, which includes the graves of both King and his wife, the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the King Birth Home, and Historic Fire Station No. 6. To the west, the site borders the Sweet Auburn Historic District, a once-vital African-American neighborhood from the turn of the 20th century.
The King Birth Home
Built in 1895, this Queen Anne–style dwelling housed several generations of the King family — often all at once. For the first dozen years of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. shared the house with his grandparents, parents, brother, sisters, a great aunt, and an uncle. The King Birth Home (501 Auburn Ave., 404/331-6922, www.nps.gov/malu, daily 10 a.m.–5 p.m.) has been refurbished to reflect the aesthetics of the 1930s.
Visitors who want to tour the King Birth Home should plan to arrive early at the National Park Service Visitor Center (450 Auburn Ave.); tours are free but tend to fill up fast since they’re limited to 15 people. The half-hour tours are led by park rangers.
Historic Fire Station No. 6
Atlanta’s oldest standing fire station was built in 1894 and served the Sweet Auburn neighborhood until 1991. It underwent a thorough renovation in 1995 and today the two-story redbrick Romanesque Revival building houses a museum (39 Boulevard, 404/331-5190, www.nps.gov/malu, daily 10 a.m.–5 p.m., free) detailing the desegregation of Atlanta’s fire department and features a 1927 American LaFrance fire engine. Two of the original brass sliding poles also remain.
Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church
Martin Luther King Jr.’s father and grandfather presided at this Auburn Avenue landmark, which was completed in 1922. King was baptized here as a child and ordained after giving a trial sermon here at the age of 19. His funeral was held here in 1968. In 1974, violence erupted in the church when a gunman shot and killed King’s mother, Alberta Christine Williams King, along with another deacon. The church’s congregation moved in 1999 to the massive new Horizon Sanctuary across the street, and plans were later unveiled to renovate Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church (407 Auburn Ave., 404/688-7263, www.historicebenezer.org, Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m.).
Sweet Auburn Historic District
Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1976, the Sweet Auburn Historic District stretches from Courtland Street to the Downtown Connector. The six-square-block area was once an essential enclave for the city’s African-American movers and shakers, a place where black businesses and cultural life flourished. Atlanta’s first black-owned office building rose here, as did the city’s first black-owned newspaper. The Royal Peacock Club hosted acts like Ray Charles, James Brown, and Aretha Franklin.
Sadly, a visit to Sweet Auburn today reveals a neighborhood still troubled by inner-city blight. You can cover the area in less than an hour. Worth visiting is the APEX Museum (135 Auburn Ave., 404/521-2739, www.apexmuseum.org, Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 1–5 p.m., $4 adult, $3 child and senior), which includes historical information about the neighborhood’s role in Atlanta history.
© Tray Butler from Moon Atlanta, 1st Edition