Each year in elementary school, most of us would be anticipating that random day off in January for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The long holiday break had come and gone and any day off was welcome relief. Of course, educators made sure we knew what this day was for, to honor the man who dedicated his life to the civil rights movement.
I would study these places where Martin Luther King was born, where he preached, where he lead movements and where he was assassinated, all with pictures in my mind of their settings.
After a road trip through the south, I finally was able to see these historic and gripping places dedicated to King’s memory for myself.
Those hopping aboard flights to Atlanta who are looking to bring to life King’s time and message can begin where the man himself was born and follow his meaningful, long and hard road toward equality through the United States' South.
The Birth Home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Atlanta, Georgia: Those who have long admired one of the greatest leaders of our time can see where MLK was born and spent much of his childhood during a visit to 501 Auburn Avenue in Atlanta. The Queen Anne style home lends insight into the early life of the civil rights leader along with many personal items belonging to King’s family. It has been restored to look as it did when King lived here, up until the age of 12. Martin Luther King Jr. was born upstairs in the home on January 15, 1929.
Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia: It was from this 1886 church that Martin Luther King Jr. served as co-pastor, helping the church’s cause toward being the spiritual center of the civil rights movement from 1960 to 1968. While King’s ancestors were involved in the church long before he served as co-pastor, MLK joined his family’s pursuit of justice for African Americans inside this house of worship. Both his father and his grandfather were pastors here. Members of the Ebenezer congregation give tours of the old church.
Dexter Avenue King Baptist Church and the Dexter Parsonage Museum, Montgomery, Alabama: The Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church is where King took the reigns of the Montgomery bus boycott and first preached as a young pastor. Those who want to see where King lived during his time as a pastor in Montgomery can visit the Dexter Parsonage Museum. King and his new wife Coretta Scott King lived in the home from 1954 to 1960. Their furnishings still fill the house, bringing to life the days when King would prepare for Sunday sermons in the study.
The National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee: On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. stepped out on to his balcony at the Lorraine Motel and was assassinated. The site of his death would later become the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum chronicles the struggles of African American freedom and equality. A few rooms from the hotel have been left as they were in King’s time, lending a chilling yet moving setting to feel the presence and importance of MLK.
The King Center, Atlanta, Georgia: Also referred to as the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, this museum, memorial and educational center is dedicated to the civil rights leader and his cause. Around a million people a year come to see King’s commitment to non-violent social change. The King Center holds important memorabilia including King’s Bible, a handwritten sermon and the key to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis where he was assassinated. Aside from the library with the world’s largest collection of books on the civil rights movement, you can also visit King’s final resting place. Inscribed with the words, “Free at Last. Free at Last. Thank God Almighty I’m Free at Last”, MLK’s marble crypt sits outside in Freedom Plaza.
CC Flickr photo credit: Mike Miley
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