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Atlanta’s Civil Rights History

The Garden at the Martin Luther King Memorial, Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta has been the center of the cultural South –shaping the Southern experience, as well as being shaped by it.  On our final day in Atlanta, we began in the city center and explored the rich fabric of Southern life.

But first, we needed to fuel-up.  And there’s no better fuel-up than brunch at the Flying Biscuit.  The Flying Biscuit is a local Atlanta chain that serves up amazing breakfasts all day.  It was an orgy of calories and a religious experience!  The namesake buttermilk biscuits were moist and decadent.  I had the Piedmont omelet, which had their signature chicken sausage (wow!) and turkey bacon (which wasn’t that good actually).  The grits were mind-altering and the “moon dusted” potatoes were perfect (not too much rosemary).  And you can’t beat the price—more calories than some people in the world consume in a weekend for less than $10.

After brunch, we headed downtown to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, actually a cluster of sites operated by the National Park Service. Before we started planning our visit to Atlanta, we actually hadn’t realized that Dr. King was born and raised in Atlanta, so we were glad to add this to our list of places to visit. The museum features information and videos on Dr. King’s life and mission, plus several longer videos in the theater. 

Nearby, but still part of the site is the Dr. King Birth Home, where Martin was born and lived for 12 years. The houses close by have been restored to look like they would have when the King family lived there.  Just down the block was the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King was co-pastor with his father and where his mother was murdered.  However, most will know Ebenezer Baptist as the place where Dr. King’s funeral was held.

For us, the most important site was Dr. King’s resting place and eternal flame.  Unfortunately, the beauty and tranquility of the experience was overshadowed by giant audio speakers blasting lout messages of commercialism and imploring us to buy things in the gift shop. 

I would imagine that Dr. King would have wanted visitors to reflect on how to make the world a better place, and not on what kind of t-shirts awaited us in the gift shop of The King Center (which is operated by the family of Dr. King and not by the National Park Service).  We passed on The King Center and the much advertised gift shop – choosing to focus on Dr. King’s message instead.

After the King sites, we visited the nearby Historic Oakland Cemetery. Like many cemeteries from the 19thcentury, it was segregated and became the final resting place of many soldiers on both sides of the Civil War.  The tomb to the unknown Confederate soldiers was particularly interesting, with its huge lion statue draped with a Confederate flag. Like other visitors to cemetery, we visited Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell’s grave.

We left central Atlanta and headed to the east and the Stone Mountain Park.  As a child, I came through Atlanta with my parents on a road trip and wanted to visit here, but we didn’t stop.  So, coming to Stone Mountain was crossing another destination off my bucket list.

Stone Mountain is a giant quartz dome that rises nearly 1,000 feet above the surrounding landscape and is over 5 miles in circumference at the base.  It is important for the gigantic bas-relief sculpture cared into the north face memorializing important leaders from the Confederate States of America:  Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis.  The carving is over two football fields in size and is recessed over 40 feet into the mountain side.

As visitors to this Southern Capital, we were surprised at Atlanta’s importance in Civil Rights history.  When we think of the beginnings of the movement for equality in America, we think of Alabama and Mississippi, but not Atlanta, Georgia.  I’m glad we took the time to learn a little about this place.

 

The Wagon That Carried Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Coffin

 

Dr. Martin Luther King’s Tomb

 

The King Center and Reflecting Pool, Atlanta

 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Eternal Flame

 

MLK’s Childhood Home

 

Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Dead at Oakland Cemetery

 

The Beauty of Oakland Cemetery in the Spring

 

Stone Mountain, Georgia

 

The Massive Carved Bas-Relief on Stone Mountain

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