For the Days I Spent with MLK Jr., Scarlett O'Hara, and Atlanta, Georgia on My Mind....…….Sweet Auburn
Have you ever been someplace new and instantly you felt a connection? I have been lucky enough to feel that way a handful of times and this day in Atlanta I would feel it all over again.
On the morning of my first full day in Atlanta I had gotten over my annoyance and exhaustion from traveling the day before so I was an eager beaver to get out and do some sightseeing. On the agenda were all things Martin Luther King Jr. related in the district I have come to love called Sweet Auburn.
The major artery of the Sweet Auburn District is Auburn Avenue, which for a long time was known as “the richest Negro street in the world”.
My visit began where all should at the MLK Jr. Visitor Center. This free welcoming center is by far one of the best I have ever been to. The sites on display were some of the most moving you could ever see, worthy of being in a museum. This center did much more than provide information about all of the King sites in the area. Instead it provided a room full of exhibits that hit directly on the heart of the matter.
The quotes on the wall stopped me in my tracks. The pictures taken during the Civil Rights movement like seeing signs for “Colored Only” and “Whites Only” bathrooms and water fountains seemed like works of fiction. Thankfully it is a world I never lived in, and although I have been very educated on this topic, these images never fail to humble me.
By far the most significant piece here was the carriage that carried Martin Luther King Jr’s casket from his home to his church on the day of his funeral. I must have stood silently crying before that for at least fifteen minutes and then returned to it again before I left. I was so stunned it took me by surprise and had a very powerful hold over me. Something about its presence and the extreme senselessness of his violent death was right there in front of my eyes. It made me think of every racist, idiotic statement I have ever heard and wonder if it were their relative gunned down how would they feel? I felt such rage and sadness all at the same time. The last time I felt this way I was in a room dealing with Reverend King’s death as well. It was back in 2011 when I was in Memphis visiting the Lorraine Motel (http://bit.ly/2jF9PoD). That day still haunts me although I can’t say how strongly I recommend a visit.
From the Visitor’s Center I walked outside to see the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. It reminded me of the Brooklyn Celebrity Path at the Botanical Gardens (http://bit.ly/2jSQ2jh). Both basically have the footprints of the movers and shakers pertaining to that area. In Atlanta I saw and stood in the footsteps of Rosa Parks, Magic Johnson, Maya Angelou, Reverend Al Sharpton, and Sammy Davis Jr. Such a cool moment and memories.
Nearby there was a statute of Mahatma Ghandi who was very close to Dr. King as they shared a nonviolent philosophy of peace and a friendship for the remainder of their lives.
From there is was a quick walk across the street to the King family church, Ebenezer Baptist Church, a national historic landmark. The church was quiet except for a few tourists like us heading in and out but you could feel the peace and power inside. It is still an active church and kept in beautiful condition. It was everything you would expect it to be. Time and circumstance have certainly not taken a toll.
Next door is the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change. When entering from Ebenezer Church the first sights you will come upon are the eternal flame on the left hand side, much like you would see at the grave of President John F. Kennedy in Arlington, Virginia. Directly across from it, over the reflecting pool are the tombs of Mrs. Coretta Scott King and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. with beautiful quotes on each.
The King Center was opened by Coretta Scott King in 1968 and is the preemptive facility on Dr. King’s speeches, writings, and messages as well as for the Civil Rights Movement. There are over two hundred interviews on file with Dr. King and his associates. There are over a million visitors here each year. While it is impressive and I was marveled at the crypts and reflecting pool I have to say I was more moved by the exhibit at the Visitor’s Center truth be told.
About a block down, on the same side of the street is the Birthplace Home of Martin Luther King Jr. Right before you approach the yellow and brown house, you will see Fire House No. 6, that was in operation from 1848 until 1991. In 1867 horses became part of the station being used as a means to transport the firefighters where they were needed. The horses could smell the smoke from the fire and would begin to race faster and faster towards the site. The last horse was used in 1918. In 1963 the department became integrated when sixteen African Americans were hired. This was one of the oldest firehouses in Atlanta existing before Atlanta was even called Atlanta! It was known back then as Marthasville. This historic landmark was also instrumental in the desegregation movement. It is currently a bookstore and museum but was closed the day I passed by.
In the theme of the day the Birthplace Home was also closed, for repairs. That was disappointing but at least getting to see the outside which was nice. It is a beautiful home in meticulous condition with a plaque on the front step marking its historical significance.
I walked all around to take photos and get an appreciation of the home. It certainly had a homey feeling from what I saw. I loved the porch swing and could imagine many happy family moments taking place there.
After passing the home, I came to appreciate the Sweet Auburn District for what it is, no matter if anyone famous had ever lived there. It is totally charming. The many historic homes are in pristine condition but all privately owned and occupied. There are signs all around the neighborhood detailing what you are seeing and which houses are significant and why. All you have to do is respect the privacy of those living there and enjoy the properties from the sidewalk or street. I could have walked around this neighborhood for hours. It was relaxing, peaceful, and you could tell it had a sense of real history to it and not only because of MLK Jr.
The Shotgun Houses were especially precious to me. My first concern was how or if they could be air-conditioned? Atlanta is gorgeous but can be one hot town. I am a girl that likes nice weather but after a day of walking all around I very much need to retreat somewhere cool.
The Shotgun Houses reminded me of the homes I saw just outside the French Quarter when I went for a walk the last time I was in New Orleans. There is something about the South when I see these sweet, average looking homes that look like something out of a movie. It just endures theses towns further into my heart.
Next up are the symbols of peace and creativity I got to experience.
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