Experience Atlanta's Heritage

Civil rights history in Atlanta is rich all year round, but Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in January and Black History Month in February will kick off a year of commemorations.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month launch a year of celebrations. (James Duckworth)
    Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month launch a year of celebrations. (James Duckworth)
  • If you've never visited the birth home of Dr. King, this is the year to do it. (James Duckworth)
    If you've never visited the birth home of Dr. King, this is the year to do it. (James Duckworth)
  • See ATL's civil rights history at the Center for Civil and Human Rights. (Dustin Chambers)
    See ATL's civil rights history at the Center for Civil and Human Rights. (Dustin Chambers)

The year 2018 commemorates the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (April 4), as well as the 50th anniversary of the founding of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

Start the new year with a meaningful splash at The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Events include Students with King, where children are introduced to leaders and friends who worked with or shared experiences with Dr. King (Jan. 9-11); the Book Event, with literary artists from the civil rights movement and the King family (Jan. 12); the Salute to Greatness Awards Gala (Jan. 13); Beloved Community Talks, where the center promotes Dr. King’s vision of The Beloved Community (Jan. 15); and the Commemorative Service at Ebenezer Baptist Church (Jan. 15). For more information on these two special anniversaries and programming during your stay, visit www.mlk50forward.org.

Other events surrounding Martin Luther King Jr. Day include the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture and Conversation on Jan. 25 at Morehouse College, King’s alma mater. Titled “Where Do We Go From Here? An Intergenerational Conversation,” the panel will feature Martin Luther King III, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, State Representative Stacey Abrams and Ambassador Andrew Young [www.morehouse.edu/events]. Piedmont Park celebrates Jan. 15 with the MLK Day 5K Drum Run, featuring a 3.1-mile drumline and live music and events [www.mlkday5k.com].

The High Museum of Art’s civil rights photography exhibition, “A Fire that No Water Could Put Out,” reflects on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination and includes historical works mingling with contemporary photographs, arranged into three sections: the era of Dr. King’s leadership, the year of his death and the civil rights movement’s legacy.

Carry the commemorations into February with the Black History Month Parade, which will start at Hurt Park on Edgewood Avenue in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood and will celebrate on the streets of surrounding areas. www.blackhistorymonthparade.com

More Black History Month events in Atlanta

If you’re in town during a different weekend, you can still walk in greatness along the street where Dr. King was born, Auburn Avenue in the Sweet Auburn Historic District.

Relive history by visiting the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, which includes a visitor center, Ebenezer Baptist Church, King’s birth home, the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame, the tombs of Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, and the King Center. Chief among the poignant exhibits are the many messages of love and nonviolence, peace and understanding.

One highlight is the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King, his father and grandfather all preached. No longer used for Sunday services (those are reserved for the new Ebenezer Church just across the street), the older church is open for self-guided tours. Sit in a pew and feel history envelope you as you listen to sermons by Dr. King.

Next door, find the tombs of both Dr. and Mrs. King and the eternal flame that symbolizes Dr. King’s hope for justice, peace and equality. Inside Freedom Hall, see Dr. King’s key to room 307 at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis where he was assassinated and a draft of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

Stroll along the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame and stand in the footprints of civil rights leaders including former U.N. Ambassador and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, congressman John Lewis, activist Hosea Williams, Rosa Parks, former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Joseph Lowery, Atlanta Constitution editor Ralph McGill and many more. www.nps.gov/malu

Then, visit Center for Civil and Human Rights, where the exhibition “Rolls Down Like Water: The American Civil Rights Movement” features a history of Atlanta’s role in the movement. Walk up the stairs into a recreated Lorraine Hotel and sit at a mock lunch counter and try to remain calm and nonviolent as you listen through earphones to recordings of angry individuals shouting insults. View a panorama of the March on Washington and be mesmerized by the sights and sounds. The basement of the center houses a rotating selection of Dr. King’s personal papers and items. Another level maintains a rotating view of the world’s human rights efforts and how it affects the lives of everyone. www.civilandhumanrights.org

Tour Atlanta’s civil rights history with Civil Rights Tours, run by Tom Houck, who once was a driver and personal assistant to Dr. King and his family. Houck’s three-hour tours include the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy’s West Hunter Street Church, the office on Auburn Avenue where leaders made decisions that changed the world, the site of the famous Atlanta Student Movement Rush Memorial Church and the grave at South-View Cemetery of Daddy King, Dr. King’s father. www.civilrightstour.com

Culminate your tour of civil rights history at Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, where you’ll find artifacts from his presidency and exhibitions on how former President Carter continues working for the civil and human rights of people around the globe. www.jimmycarterlibrary.gov

Liesl Merkel is editor of Atlanta Now magazine; Carol Carter writes and edits for Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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