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Visit Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Park
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.”
– Martin Luther King Jr sermon, November 17, 1957
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In the Sweet Auburn district of downtown Atlanta, Georgia is the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Park. The park encompasses several historic sites in the boyhood neighborhood of the Civil Rights leader. All within close walking distance, the park includes the home where he was born & spent most of his childhood, historic Ebenezer Baptist church where he & his father both preached, exhibits at the NPS Visitor Center & at the King Center, and the crypt where Dr King & his wife, Coretta, are buried. A top tourist site in Atlanta and a powerful experience, you shouldn’t visit Atlanta without making a stop.
A leader in the Civil Rights movement for 13 years, Martin Luther King Jr practiced & preached non-violence. The philosophy was inspired by the powerful examples of Jesus, as a result of Martin’s strong Christian faith, and (Indian activist) Gandhi‘s passive resistance through peaceful demonstrations. As well as advocating for Civil Rights, Martin also campaigned against poverty and international conflict- holding that all people are humans and members of God’s family.
Martin Luther King Jr is known as one of the most powerful orators in history. At 35 years old, he became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. This despite being a ‘C’ student in college, getting a ‘C’ in public speaking, and a ‘C’ in preaching. His daughter, Bernice, uses his grades, those seeming limitations when she’s talking to young people. She tells them to not allow grades or judgments to discourage or define who they are or what they are capable of contributing in the world. But it doesn’t mean he didn’t work hard to better himself. He graduated high school & was admitted into college at age 15!
Horizon Sanctuary where Ebenezer Baptist worships today next to MLK Jr National Park NPS Visitor Center. “Freedom Road” walk in NPS Visitor Center.
NPS (National Park Service) Visitor Center
The very 1st thing you want to do when you arrive is to get your tickets for the Ranger-led tour of Martin’s childhood home. Tour times are only available at the Info desk in the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Park NPS Visitor Center. Because of the size of the rooms, tours are limited to 15 and ‘sell out’ very quickly, especially weekends. They’re free and 1st come on the day of only. Get these 1st so you don’t miss it and you’ll likely still have time before your tour to visit the exhibits and other spots. Get your Junior Ranger books here & stamp your Passport to Your Parks books, as well.
The NPS Visitor Center has exhibits & a film documenting the Civil Rights movement & Dr King’s involvement, life and death. The Dream Gallery has special exhibits and displays the aftermath of MLK Jr’s death. In the center of the room is the farm wagon that carried Dr King’s casket to the cemetery for his funeral. Next to it is the large cross of white lillies that blanketed his coffin. They have the heartbreaking red silk carnations that Martin gave his wife, Coretta, the last time he saw her. He had a habit of giving her flowers, though always fresh. When she asked him why artificial flowers this time, he said he wanted her to have some that she could always keep. They were the last he ever gave her.
Outside, there is a beautiful mural along the side of the building of important moments in Martin’s life & the Civil Rights movement. In front, along Peace Plaza, is the “I Have a Dream” Rose Garden. They have an annual contest where students around the world submit poems promoting world peace. Winning poems are displayed in the garden for a year. A Ghandi statue & ‘Behold’ monument, as well as the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame plaques are also outside. The King Center and graves of Dr. and Mrs. King can be seen across the street.
Crypt, Reflecting Pool & Eternal Flame
Dr King was originally laid to rest at Southview Cemetery. But 2 years later, in 1970, his remains were moved to the King Center. In 2006, after the death of his widow, Coretta, the marble crypt was rebuilt to include her remains, as well. His side of the tomb is inscribed with a quote from his famous 1963 ‘Dream speech’, “Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty I’m Free at last.” Coretta’s contains the scripture, 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now abide Faith, Hope, Love, These Three; but the greatest of these is love.”
The Eternal Flame in front of the tomb symbolizes the continuing effort to realize Dr. King’s dream and vision for a world of justice, peace and equality for all mankind.
Freedom Hall at the King Center
The King Center was started by Coretta in the year of Martin’s death to carry out his vision through education & community programs. At the East end of the reflecting pool, Freedom Hall is the exhibition area. It contains various displays and a number of belongings of Dr. and Mrs. King. It also contains an exhibit including Rosa Parks, Ghandi, global artwork & a bookstore. Some highlights in the King room include:
- Medals- Nobel Peace Prize & other
- Personal possessions of Martin & Coretta including clothing & effects he wore during marches & during his assassination & previous attempts
- His beloved, well-worn Bible & Baptist pastoral robe
- handwritten speeches
Next, on the corner of the walk to the King family home, is the Historic Fire Station No. 6. It operated in the neighborhood during Martin’s entire life, starting in 1894 through 1991. There is a 1927 vintage fire engine inside & some exhibits on the desegregation of the Atlanta Fire Department.
Birth & Boyhood home
1 1/2 blocks down on 501 Auburn Avenue is the childhome home where Martin (birth & legal name Michael Luther Jr) and his siblings were born and spent their youth. Martin’s family lived with his grandparents in their home, until his grandpa died when he was 12. Take a peek into their life, family photos, rooms & furniture. Hear stories of what life was like in the King home. Find out what he was like as a little boy. Upstairs, you’ll see the bedroom where Martin (M.L.) and his siblings were born. See the dining room table where the whole family, even kids, would discuss current events.
It is only available for a visit on the Ranger tour, but can be seen from the sidewalk out front, if you miss it. The stories are worth it, though, so don’t miss this tour if you can help it! The 2 story house next door at 497 Auburn Avenue is an NPS bookstore for the site.
Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church
Martin’s home church, Ebenezer Baptist, is just 2 blocks from his house. Not only was Martin baptized here as a child where his grandpa preached, but Martin Luther King Jr spoke his very 1st sermon here at 17 years old. He grew up to co-pastor the church with his father, “Daddy King”. “I love you, Ebenezer, I love you,” he used to tell the parishioners on Sunday morning. Martin remained a pastor here until his assassination in 1968. His funeral was held here where his father remained pastor.
His mother, Alberta, played the pipe organ at Ebenezer as her son & husband preached. She continued to serve after her beloved son’s death. She was murdered in this holy sanctuary, playing her organ during a Sunday morning service. Shot by a deranged extremist, an African American man, who also shot & killed a church deacon and wounded 2 others in the attack. It was 1974. 6 years after Alberta’s son was murdered, she joined him in peace. Not in death, but in everlasting life and that one horrific act has not been able to taint this beautiful testament to enduring love. ‘The greatest of these…’
The church has been restored by the NPS to the 1960- 1968 era of Dr King’s life. In the 2 story “Heritage Sanctuary”, the beautiful stained glass windows line both sides of the church. The sun streaming through the bright colors just feels joyful. The images of Martin’s father & grandfather, long-time Ebenezer pastors, are in one. A young King must have looked up at those windows every Sunday with pride. Looking up to, quite literally, 2 of the most important men in his life.
I’m in love with the mahogany woodwork, at the altar, balcony & throughout. Pipes from the pipe organ line the back wall. A room that has seen its share of grief, has experienced tragedy within these sacred walls. But, that’s not what lingers. The room felt to me like peace. Between the vintage beauty surrounding you and just knowing what these walls have seen when MLK Jr was alive, if those don’t get you in the spirit, Martin’s own words will. His sermon plays throughout the very sanctuary where he gave it. Echoing through the room, sounding like he’s standing in it. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture him there laying it down for you. Chills. Good ones! Don’t miss Ebenezer!
Fellowship Hall in the basement, where the congregation first started has exhibits related to Ebenezer’s history & the King men ministering here. You can imagine Martin, his siblings & other kids running around in earlier times on the black & white checkerboard tiled floor. This is the room where he was baptized. A video of Martin’s sister, Dr Christine King Ferris, plays in the background talking about her family and this church.
Prior to restoring the church in 2001, a new church building was built for Ebenezer’s congregation to worship, today. “Horizon Sanctuary” is across the street next to the NPS Visitor Center. There are still parishioners and possibly even family who remember a young Martin’s childhood and his sermons. All are welcome to attend Sunday services if you want to praise & worship with Martin’s beloved Ebenezer church family. No tours are available. This is an active church, not a tourism spot.
Dr King’s message of hope, love & peace, his dream of a kinder world still inspires. The Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Park is a must-do in Atlanta! The NPS & the King family have done a great job of restoring & preserving these inspiring sites. They’ve done well to honor his sacrifice & continue his dream. His death was tragic, but was unable to dim the legacy or impact of his life. Come learn more, pay respect and remember. Martin Luther King Jr wasn’t about hate. He didn’t incite division or teams. His dream was that every human would love, respect, and be kind to one another. Lord show us the way.
- Go 1st thing in the morning, preferably a weekday, so that you’re able to tour his home. Tours sell out or could take hours to get a slot. Only 15 an hour get in.
- Home tour tickets are available at the NPS Visitor Center.
- 30 minute tours of the birth home operate every hour, 10-5 daily; Last tour starting at 4:00.
- The park & Visitor Center is open 9-5 daily, except major holidays and, sometimes, longer seasonal hours.
- Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church is available to tour Monday- Saturdays 9-5, Sundays 1-5. It’s open til 6 in summer.
- Free admission & parking.
- A large parking lot is at at John Wesley Dobbs Ave. on the next block past the NPS Visitor Center
- As a NPS Park, they have the Junior Ranger program available for kids! Earn a cool badge here!
- There is a small Gift Shop available in the Visitor Center, bookstore in the King Center & by his home.
- Takes about 2 1/2 hours to visit, depending on tour times.
Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Park is located at
450 Auburn Avenue, NE
“Use me, God.
Show me how to take who I am,
who I want to be, and what I can do,
and use it for a purpose greater than myself.”
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is,
‘What are you doing for others?”
– Martin Luther King Jr sermons
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