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Atlanta's Civil Rights Legacy
To some, Atlanta's location in the South may have made it seem an unlikely hotbed for social change, but the city earned an important place in the history of civil rights, particularly through the work and words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Many of the monuments to this rich legacy—including the birth home and church of Dr. King—are open to the public.
Tracing back to 1862, when the first African-American property owner sold her land for $500 to purchase her enslaved husband's freedom, Atlanta has been a civil rights city. Though many important activists have called this city home, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stands apart. He was born here, preached here, and raised a family here before he was assassinated in 1968. His legacy is kept alive at the King Center—a living memorial to his work in leading the nation's nonviolent movement for equality and peace.
"Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
"I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
"All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence."
—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Civil Rights Walk
A great way to take a tour of Atlanta's civil rights history is to walk through the Sweet Auburn neighborhood. To get here, take the MARTA train to the Five Points station Downtown and switch to either of the two eastbound lines (the Green/Edgewood/Candler Park or the Blue/Indian Creek line). Get off at the King Memorial stop. All tours are self-guided, and you can download a free audio tour from the Center for Civil & Human Rights Partnership.
Spend time at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, also known as The King Center, established in 1968 by Coretta Scott King and housing Reverend King's library, a resource center, the Eternal Flame, and the Kings' final resting place. Pause at King's white marble tomb to see its inscription: "Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I'm free at last."
Stroll along the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame, created in 2004 and set up along the National Park Service's Visitor Center to recognize civil rights heroes and cultural icons like Rosa Parks, Stevie Wonder, Hank Aaron, and President Jimmy Carter with 2-foot-square granite markers.
Stop by Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was founded in 1886 and moved to Auburn Avenue in 1914. King was baptized here and took the pulpit in 1960 as co-pastor with his father. Visit on a Sunday to see the recent renovation and hear Senior Pastor Raphael G. Warnock lead a service.
Then stop by the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, which was established in 1918 in a tent before moving in 1924 to its current brick-and-concrete building. The market was segregated, and only white people were permitted to shop inside while black people shopped from stalls lining the curb. That's where the market got its name. Today the market welcomes everyone with two sculptures at its front door by Atlanta artist Carl Joe Williams. Inside are stalls featuring fruits, vegetables, and meats, and small cafés.
Atlanta in Civil Rights History
1800s: The first African-American congressman from Georgia is elected; Booker T. Washington's "Atlanta Compromise" speech is given here.
1900-1940: Atlanta Life Insurance Co. is founded by former slave Alonzo Herndon; 25 black people die during the Atlanta Race Riots; Martin Luther King Jr. is born in Atlanta.
1950-1960: Atlanta's segregated bus system is ruled unconstitutional; members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee stage a sit-in at segregated lunch counters; public pools and parks integrate.
1954: U.S. Supreme Court declares school segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling.
1973: Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr. is elected as the city's first African-American mayor.
1980s: The King Center is named a national historic site.
2000: Shirley Franklin is Atlanta's first female African-American mayor; Tyler Perry opens his movie studios in Atlanta.
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