10 Must-See Treasures of MLK Nat'l Historical Park
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This multimedia guide will help you optimize your time when you visit the MLK, Jr National Historical Park.
Atlanta Freedom Trail
A treasure chest awaits you…
To honor Dr. King this year, I felt it would be helpful to share some photos and videos that I have taken during my many visits to the Martin Luther King, Jr National Historical Park in Atlanta. I also wanted to share what I consider to be ten “treasures” of this world-renowned facility, which is located in the Atlanta neighborhood of Sweet Auburn. I hope you can visit the park soon and see these treasures in person.
Crown jewel of ATL’s cultural heritage…
While hundreds of landmarks around the world are named in honor of Dr. King, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park is unique in that it preserves the actual places where Dr. King was born, lived, worked, and is buried. More than 700,000 local, national, and international visitors come to the park each year captivated by the man, his ideals and his courage.
The park consists of dozens of historic buildings — most of them built between 1890 and 1920 — spread over 38 acres. Many of these were part of Dr. King’s early and adult years. Source: NPS
Did you know?
The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park is managed by the U.S. National Park Service. On January 8, 2018, its classification was elevated from ‘national historic site’ to ‘national historical park.’ The law, which was sponsored by the late Rep. John Lewis (this was his district) created the first national historical park in the State of Georgia.
The legislation expanded the boundaries of the former site to include the Prince Hall Masonic Temple (just west on Auburn Ave) a site that Dr. King used as the headquarters for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The new designation also provides the facility with greater federal resources, including park rangers, educational programming and community grants.
Ten must-see treasures in the park…
#1: Visitor’s Center
This is the place to start your visit! Here you will find knowledgeable park rangers who can answer questions and offer suggestions. The Visitor’s Center is a veritable museum! The biggest mistake people make is not allowing enough time to do it justice. Please give yourself at least 90 minutes to explore this treasure.
Your first stop should be the information desk. Ask about the film schedule and be sure to take in one of the wonderful presentations that run continuously in the auditorium. This will provide you with some important context on the life and legacy of Dr. King. Depending on how many films you watch, that could take 30-60 minutes. The other thing you should do while you’re at the information desk is make a reservation to tour Dr. King’s birth home. The rangers can help you with this.
Next, take the self-guided tour through the museum. Spend some time at the multi-media kiosks. Here you will find videos, timelines and information boards that chronical important events that took place during Dr. King’s life. One of the many treasures in this area is the mule-drawn wooden wagon that carried Dr. King’s casket during his funeral on April 9, 1968.
#2: Gandhi Statue + International Civil Rights Walk of Fame
As you exit the Visitor’s Center, turn left and walk about 100 yards. Here you will find a life-size statue of Mahatma Gandhi and the starting point of the International Civil Right Walk of Fame.
Though the two men never got a chance to meet (King was 19 when Gandhi was assassinated), King learned about Gandhi through his writing and a trip to India in 1959. King drew heavily on the Gandhian principle of nonviolence in his own civil rights activism, writing that “while the Montgomery boycott was going on, India’s Gandhi was the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.”
FRIENDLY SUGGESTION: Give yourself at least 30 minutes to explore this area. Instead of just walking around, you can turn this into a meaningful educational experience by stopping at each leader’s square and reading about his/her life and contribution. A link to a collection of biographies appears at the bottom of this article.
The International Civil Rights Walk of Fame was created in 2004 to give recognition to those courageous soldiers of justice who sacrificed and struggled to make equality a reality for all. This extraordinary display has enhanced the historic value of the geographic area, enriched the cultural heritage, and augmented tourist attractions in the city of Atlanta. Along the promenade just north of park’s Visitor Center is a parade of embedded 2'x 2' granite markers featuring the actual footstep impressions of civil and human rights icons, such as Rosa Parks, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Ambassador Andrew Young, US Congressman John Lewis, and others. Source: NPS
#3: International Peace Rose Garden
The Garden borders the Peace Plaza, in front of the Visitors’ Center. It has 185 roses in a variety of colors and fragrances. The graves of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King can be seen directly across the street if you stand at the Peace Plaza, facing the rose garden. The video below explains the design of the garden including the significance of the colors and layout of the rose bushes.
#4: Behold Monument
The Behold Monument, which is one of the crown jewels of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park, commemorates the historic principles that guided the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On January 11, 1990, Mrs. Coretta Scott King unveiled the monument as a tribute to her late husband and an enduring inspiration to all who fight for dignity, social justice, and human rights.
Sculptor, Patrick Morelli, was inspired by the ancient African ritual of lifting a newborn child to the heavens and reciting the words "Behold the only thing greater than yourself." You will find a link to the artist’s statement below.
#5 Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church
Throughout its long history, Ebenezer Baptist Church has been a spiritual home to many citizens of the Sweet Auburn community. Its most famous member, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was baptized here as a child in the church. After giving a trial sermon to the congregation at Ebenezer at the age of 19 Martin was ordained as a minister. In 1960 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became a co-pastor of Ebenezer with his father, Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., know as "Daddy" King. He remained in that position until his death in 1968. As a final farewell to his spiritual home Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s funeral was held in the church.
The video above, narrated by the late U.S. Representative John Lewis, will provide you with some important context about this historical treasure.
FRIENDLY SUGGESTION: Allow at least 30 minutes to tour the inside of the church. Make your way to the main sanctuary and sit in one of the pews for a few minutes. There you can hear the words of Dr. King as he preached from the pulpit in front of you. This is a very powerful experience.
#6 King Mausoleum
Doctor and Coretta Scott King’s tombs are located across Auburn Avenue from the National Park Service Visitor Center. Mrs. King chose this location for her husband’s tomb between his birth home and his spiritual home, Ebenezer Baptist Church.
#7: The Eternal Flame & Reflecting Pool
The Eternal Flame is located in front of the King Memorial Tomb. The inscription reads: "The Eternal Flame symbolizes the continuing effort to realize Dr. King’s ideals for the “Beloved Community” which requires lasting personal commitment that cannot weaken when faced with obstacles." The video below provides some nice views of the eternal flame and reflecting pool area…
FRIENDLY SUGGESTION: Have a seat on one of the benches that flank the eternal flame. This is a great place to reflect and listen to the words of Dr. King, which are piped through outdoor speakers that surround this area.
#8: King Center
The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, commonly known as The King Center, is a nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization. The center was founded in 1968 by Coretta Scott King. King started the organization in the basement of the couple's home in the year following the 1968 assassination of her husband, Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1981, the center's headquarters were moved into the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site facility on Auburn Avenue which includes King's birth home and the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he preached from 1960 until his death. In 2012, King's youngest child, Bernice King, became the CEO.
Friendly Suggestion: Give yourself at least 60 minutes to explore the museum at the The King Center. Also, be sure to hit the outstanding bookstore, which is on the main level.
#9 Fire Station No. 6
Built in 1892, Fire Station #6 was the first integrated and longest active fire station in the city. Located on the birth home block, the fire station was frequented by young Martin as he was growing up.
#10 King Birth Home
In 1895 a two-story frame Queen Anne style house was built for a white family at 501 Auburn Avenue. The home was purchased in 1909 by Rev. Adam Daniel Williams, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, for $3,500. Rev. Williams moved into the house with his wife Jennie Celeste and their 6 year old daughter Alberta Christine, their only child of three to survive infancy.
On November 25, 1926 Christine married a minister by the name of Michael Luther King at her father's church. Instead of Christine moving in with her new husband he moved in with her and her parents in the family home. Over time the King's would have three children born in the home, Willie Christine, Michael Jr. (later known as Martin Luther King, Jr.), and Alfred Daniel. On March 21, 1931 Rev. Williams dies in the home of a heart attack. After Mrs. Willies dies of a heart attack the King's move to a new home at 193 Boulevard.
The home stayed in the family and became rental property for the family. After Dr. King's assassination on April 4, 1968 plans were begun to restore the house as a historic museum. Today visiting the home where Dr. King was born and lived the first twelve years of his life is often the highlight of ones visit to the park. Source: NPS
FRIENDLY SUGGESTION: Be sure to stop at the Visitor’s Center Information Desk at the beginning of your visit to make a reservation to tour the birth home.
MLK Nobel Peace Prize (Alfred Nobel Foundation)
Atlanta Freedom Trail Interactive Map (ATLsherpa)
Photo Galleries (ATLsherpa)
7 Things to Know About Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park (US Dept of Interior)
Martin Luther King, Jr. (Google Arts & Culture)
Atlanta Streetcar (best way to get there from Downtown ATL hotels)
There is plenty of public parking at this site
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Steve @ ATLsherpa