Ever since I could remember, I’ve had the civil and social liberties of being African American, or as I just would call it— black. I was born to two hardworking intelligent black parents who raised me for years in Detroit, a community where I knew not much about race, inequality or not fitting in. Everyone looked like me and for the very few people who didn’t, they didn’t pose a threat to my development, well-being and overall happiness. At a young age, I never felt the force of inequality reflected in race.
My brothers and I went to a private school where my teachers were all of black ethnicity. My parents took us on vacations and they encouraged us to be involved in sports, music lessons and various extra curricular church activities.
This was a time before the media was hovering in our faces at every turn. This was pre-google, pre-smart phones, and before social media was shoved into our lives. And while obviously there were pressing national issues around the country featuring injustice, corrupt police behavior, and the economic imbalance, at my young age those issues weren’t at the forefront of my mind.
By the time I turned six my family decided it was time to pursue a better life in the burbs’, and we moved to Rochester. It was then, for the first time, I really discovered what it was like be different. Being the only black family in my new neighborhood, being only one of the three black girls in my entire elementary school, and not knowing a single soul not counting my brothers could have been a challenge. Starting new for anyone can be difficult for various reasons. But I can honestly say that my transition from Detroit to Rochester in 1998 was as smooth sailing as it could have been be. Despire the fact I was the only one with coarse hair and dark skin, I made friends quickly. My neighbors were polite to my family and people made it clear that race would not be an issue. I was never bullied, I was never told I couldn’t play with my white friends, and I never felt like less of a person because of the color of my skin. The feeling of acceptance was something I took for granted my entire life.
I’ve always understood the history though. That’s something a black child can not not learn. My grandparents parents would tell me stories of the past, and how lucky I was to be in a world where I can be whatever we want to be. Although I didn’t live the past, I knew about it. I knew there was a deep rooted hatred towards black Americans and if I were to be born 40 years before, my life would have ran a very different route.
Feeling accepted due to the color of my skin is something I took for granted my entire life, and it was due to the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and other social and civil activists made my sense of belonging certain.
Martin Luther King has always been an influential figure in my life. I’ve done plays about him growing up, he’s filled most of my history books and I’ve always had this level of respect for what he pushed for and accomplished.
So of course being down here in Atlanta, only a few short miles away from his birth home and national historic site, I had to make a visit and share my findings.
4 facts about the MLK Site:
- Location: The blocks of Auburn avenue, Jackson Street, Edgewood, Irwin and Randolph.
- Admission: Free
- Year Built: 1929
- Listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
So the site is broken up into five locations off of Auburn Road.
- Ebenezer Baptist Church
- The King Center
- MLK’s birth Home
- The Surrounding Historic Residential Area
- Historic Fire Station No. 6
- National Park Service Visitor Center
Ebenezer Baptist Church
The infamous Ebenezer Baptist Church, located on the corner of Auburn Ave and Jackson St. was built in 1914. It was here where Martin Luther King J.R.’s father “Daddy King” and grandfather served as pastors for nearly 80 years. It was here where Martin Luther King Jr grew up and understood what it meant to be a Christian and where he was imbedded with morals such as peace, tranquility, and acceptance. And with his home only sitting a block away, this church was like Martin Luther King’s second home. In 1960 MLK served as co-pastor with Daddy King up until his assassination 8 years later. As a final farewell to his spiritual home Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral was held in the church on April 9, 1968.
Years later in 1974, when you’d think the King family had suffered enough of a great loss, a spastic gunman by the name of Marcus Wayne Chenault fatally shot and killed, Mama King and Deacon Boykin. Mama King was sitting at the organ where she played during church service. The gunman wounded three others in the sanctuary during church service. This church has so much history and carpet, pews and even the decorations are preserved just as they were in the 60s. Throughout all of the hate, suffering, and uproar going on during this era this holy space helped to keep hundreds of blacks sane and focused on the bigger picture of change and acceptance.
The basement is also filled with historic artifacts such as the microphone MLK preached with, pictures from church activities, meetings, and even MLK’s eulogy.
The King Center
The King Center is where both MLK and his wife Coretta Scott. King lay to rest. When most people think of the King Center, this is what comes to mind. The above ground grave is surrounded by five spout fountain. To me, it kind of reminds me of the Lincoln Memorial.. but smaller.
It’s weird to think this heroic icon is right here, sleeping peacefully before me. Some man that I’ve never knew but always respected is right here. In a grave that I can see. I’m usually a little freaked out about death, but right now I’m calm. I have nothing but gratitude that this man, dead, before me fought so many battles so that I, a person born way after he died has benefited from. This man, right before me, dead, is why I am able to be who I am today.
According the experts he’s dressed stylishly in a black suit.
In front of the tomb is an eternal flame. Eternal flames are used to commemorate a person, a common goal, religious belief, etc. Seems fitting there is one here in front of MLK’s grave site. Side funny story. I got yelled at because I stepped “very easily” and briefly over this very low gated rope. I wasn’t trying to blow the fire out.. just get a better picture. lol.
Around the King center, the walls are dressed with various photography murals highlighting both MLK and Coretta’s life.
And finally, inside of the King Center, you’ll find a row of banners from the King Foundation and a small room featuring facts about MLK, his wife Coretta and Rosa Parks. Btw, both Rosa and Coretta were absolutely beautiful!
MLK’s Birth Home
This is where he was born! Literally right here, on the second floor way back in 1929. Unfortunately this was closed off to the public for repairs, but it was still cool to imagine the conversations held in this yellow Victorian home years and years before my time.
Surrounding Historic Neighborhood
The street of “sweet” Auburn was once a very prosperous and popular block filled with homes, schools, churches, and restaurants. It is on this street where MLK’s birth home is located. It’s where both old and new Ebenezer Baptist Church stands. And according to the locals, this was once a street where the businesses were solely black owned.
Anyways, back to the neighborhood, the block where MLK’s home is on has a variety of different housing options. In most neighborhoods I’ve come across, most of the economic class is consistent. The homes are usually around the same size, and people come from a similar status. On this street however, there is a mix of it all. You get Victorian homes, apartments, shotgun shacks, low income housing, and a even a school.
A great deal of the residents who lived on this block were close friends with the King family. Many were church members, teachers, and other people well-known in the black community.
This empty lot was once Bryant Preparatory Institue where Martin Luther King attended as a child. The school was built in 1910 and it was here where MLK was taught key principles, and encouraged him to to go further with his education.
The home to the left of to Martin Luther Kings home has now been converted to a bookstore.
Historic Fire Station No. 6
Apparently it’s very easy to pass this building up. I passed this Fire Station a handful of times before I realized it was a part of this historic site. It’s located on the corner of Auburn and Boulevard leaving MLK’s home, going towards the memorial. The Station appears as a random large building until you look a little closer — or maybe just pay attention. You might be thinking, “what significance does this have to the life of MLK?” Well let me fill you in.
This fire station, built in 1984, was often a place where the children on the block gathered and played. While all of the firefighters at the time were white, they let the black kids in the community examine the large interesting trucks and taught them random things about life as a hero. This was among the first friendly interactions MLK and other black kids had with “friendly” white people. Inspired, MLK knew he could live in a world where everyone could get along.
Most importantly however, this was the first integrated fire station in the south. At the time there were a few black firefighters, but stations weren’t integrated due to the fact that workers had to be on call at all times, causing them the need to live there for days at a time. During this era, blacks and whites couldn’t even drink from the same water fountain let alog live together. Black and whites living together was something totally out of the norm. However, this fire station, the one I was standing in at the moment was the first to allow such a thing. Workers were allowed to work and live together. After reflecting through my life as an adult and thinking about the many places where I lived in the same space as other multiple ethnicities, I realized right here, that was yet another thing I unknowingly took for granted.
National Park Service Visitor Center
To be honest this building is where you should probably go first. It holds all of the information and maps of everything you’ll come across during your visit. There are multiple large rooms telling you the history of Martin Luther King and how people like President Jimmy Carter influenced the movement.
Here you’ll find the barrel used to carry MLK’s funeral procession, mock statues of protesters, and history timelines of the events we all read about in history books.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Martin Luther King historic site in its entirety. And even though the site is located all within two blocks, it can take a few hours to get through. It’s somewhere parents need to take their kids but also where adults need to come back to gain more understanding and gratitude and reflect on the life of this legend. It’s easy to pass through and say you’ve seen it, but I highly recommend you to take the time to fully venture through. I really appreciated the history throughout the self guided tour. As I was walking though, I couldn’t help but think how this home, how this church, how this fire station, etc, has affected my life so personally years and years later in 2016. This historic site taught me to keep fighting for what I believe in. Martin Luther King didn’t get paid to be an activist. He put in hours, days, and years of work for a cause bigger than himself. Martin a dream so big it affects how I live my life today. And for that, I’m forever grateful.