Immerse Yourself in Atlanta's Civil Rights History

What's Atlanta's place in the nation's civil rights history? Here's a quick refresher on the city's legacy just in time for Black History Month.
  • See the past's progress at the core of Atlanta's civil rights history. (Jenny Girtman, AtlantaPhotos.com)
    See the past's progress at the core of Atlanta's civil rights history. (Jenny Girtman, AtlantaPhotos.com)
  • The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site is a testament to Atlanta's place in history.
    The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site is a testament to Atlanta's place in history.

Atlanta played a pivotal role in this nation’s civil rights movement, thanks first and foremost to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The street where Dr. King was born, Auburn Avenue, became the spiritual center of the movement and once was known as the “richest Negro street in the nation” because of all the African-American businesses located there during segregation.

Atlanta-MLK-Birth-Home-Visitors

(James Duckworth, AtlantaPhotos.com)

Today, visitors to Atlanta can celebrate our icons and relive the history of the civil rights movement. Here are some of the sites you must visit in Atlanta and an itinerary for your trip. 

DAY ONE

Must See:

Start your morning with a visit to 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 for Nonviolent Social Change.

Chief among the poignant exhibits at the site are the many messages of love and nonviolence, peace and understanding, written and spoken by both Dr. and Mrs. King. Amid the turmoil of the 21st century, these long-ago utterances provide continuing hope for the very things Dr. King spoke about in his "I Have A Dream" speech and the actions that are the hallmarks of his life.  

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 across the street), the older church is open for self-guided tours. Visitors may sit in a pew and feel history envelope them as they 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, a draft of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech and awards he received.

Atlanta-King-Center-Crypts-Woman-Child

(James Duckworth, AtlantaPhotos.com)

Stroll along the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame and stand in the footprints of Atlanta civil rights leaders including former UN Ambassador and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, congressman John Lewis, activists Hosea Williams and Rosa Parks, Atlanta Life Insurance Company President Jesse Hill, former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Joseph Lowery, Atlanta Constitution editor Ralph McGill and many more. 

Must Eat:

Lunch on Edgewood Avenue where you can bite off a slice of history. Or walk to lunch at Krog Street Market, built to fit the 1880s warehouse style of the area. Once you're finished, hop on the Atlanta Streetcar to head to the Center for Civil and Human Rights.

Must See:

The Center's 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 after viewing television clips of newscasters conveying stories of the violence occurring in our nation during the height of the civil rights movement. 

Atlanta-Center-Civil-Human-Rights-Exterior-Skyline-Night

(Gene Phillips, AtlantaPhotos.com)

Immerse yourself in the history of civil rights sit-ins as you perch at a mock lunch counter and try to remain calm and nonviolent as you listen through earphones to recordings of angry people shouting insults. View a panoramic 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 right efforts and notes how these efforts affect the lives of everyone. 

DAY TWO

Must See:

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 3-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.

Culminate your tour of Atlanta’s civil rights history at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum, where you'll find not only artifacts from his presidency, but also information and exhibitions on how President Carter continues working for the civil and human rights of people around the globe. 

Atlanta-Jimmy-Carter-Library-and-Museum-Presidential-Issues

Must Eat:

Ponce City Market, located in the restored Sears, Roebuck & Company building, is only a 5-minute cab ride away. Spend an hour or two, maybe even the rest of your evening there, surrounded by Atlanta's unique history and culture.

DAY THREE

Must See:

A civil rights tour in Atlanta isn't complete without visiting Atlanta's Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Atlanta's West End. Operating under the umbrella of the Atlanta University Center Consortium, the four HBCU colleges are Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine, Clark Atlanta University and Spelman College. Morehouse, alma mater of Dr. King, includes a Martin Luther King Jr. Collection representing much of his life and work spanning from 1944 to 1968. 

Must Eat:

Lunch at Busy Bee's or in Castleberry Hill at the historic Paschal's Restaurant.

Atlanta is extremely proud of its civil rights history and traditions. When you take this tour, you will understand why.

Carol Carter is a contributing writer for Atlanta Now magazine, and she writes and edits for Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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