When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a boy living in the segregated South, he was unaware that not only would he change the world in his lifetime, but his peaceful actions and memorable verses would also guide America through social unrest long after he was killed.
The course of his life is charted across many U.S. cities, including Boston and Atlanta. These sites draw in those who wish to experience firsthand his profound legacy, which he left in every place he lived or passed through.
Representatives with NTA members the Boston CVB and the Atlanta CVB detail their offerings as destinations that shaped Dr. King’s life, celebrating his important work throughout the year.
Dr. King grew up in Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood, the child of a pastor and a former schoolteacher. He was a bright and determined student, gaining admission to the city’s Morehouse College at age 15 to study law and medicine.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the undisputed leader of the American civil rights movement. His vision of racial equality provided a road map for the future of race relations,” says the Atlanta CVB’s Brandon Barnes. “Born on Atlanta’s famed Auburn Avenue during segregation, Dr. King refused to accept that race relations could not improve, that his Black brothers and sisters couldn’t have a hand in creating a more equitable society. His adherence to Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence, his persuasive manner, his persistence, and his eloquence were the hallmarks of his success.”
Barnes finds three sites in the Georgia capital particularly special to learn about Dr. King’s formative years.
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park The Martin Luther King Jr. birth home is a key fixture in the 35-acre park. The pretty yellow Queen Anne-style house, which first belonged to his grandparents, is where Dr. King was born and lived for the first 12 years of his life. The National Park Service conducts daily tours of the home, which are limited to 15 people. At the park’s The King Center, visitors can pay their respects at Dr. and Mrs. King’s Tomb as well as at the reflecting pool and eternal flame, which symbolizes the continuation of Dr. King’s famously nonviolent work in social justice and equality.
Ebenezer Baptist Church Another pillar within the historic park’s perimeter, Ebenezer Baptist Church is about a block from Dr. King’s birth home. Dr. King’s father and grandfather served as pastors at Ebenezer, and his mother the music director. The church is remembered as the location for the founding meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. With this group, Dr. King organized historical civil rights protests, such as the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Dr. King became co-pastor in 1960 and led the congregation with unwavering guidance and vivacity up until his death in 1968. It was also the site of his funeral on April 9 of that year.
National Center for Civil and Human Rights This downtown center houses three main exhibits: civil rights, human rights, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Collection from Morehouse College. In the latter, visitors can pause in the “Voice to the Voiceless” gallery to view an illuminated installation of Dr. King’s handwritten notes, which are enlarged and arranged on a wall, and discover how his ideas were conceived through writing. There is also a wall projection of “I have a dream” in more than 20 languages, symbolizing how his work has permeated cultures for generations.
Dr. King had his sights set on Boston after obtaining his Bachelor of Divinity degree from the Pennsylvania-based Crozer Theological Seminary. He attended graduate school at Boston University and, while residing in the Massachusetts capital, he met singer and fellow civil rights activist Coretta Scott. The two married in 1953.
The Embrace in Boston Common A memorial to commemorate what Dr. King and Coretta Scott King accomplished together will be unveiled this year, the Boston CVB’s Stacy Thornton says.
“Boston Common, America’s first public park, has a vibrant 400-year-old history of civic gatherings. The King Boston memorial, The Embrace, will be anchored here, where in a 1965 speech Dr. King called Boston to live by its highest ideals. The Embrace will provide a living space for conversation, education, and reflection on the racial and economic justice ideals of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, and serve as a permanent monument to their time in Boston, the city where they met and fell in love, and which helped shape their approach to a just and equitable society,” Thornton said.
Roxbury Love Story Thornton says visitors should see the neighborhood where Dr. King met Coretta Scott King and, later, organized the first civil rights march that led a procession to Boston Common. The Roxbury Love Story mural was created by local artists at the site of the former Twelfth Baptist Church, where Dr. King served as assistant minister. The portraits of Dr. King and Coretta Scott King, painted in a monochromatic scheme against a red damask background, were unveiled in 2020 with astonishing authenticity and skill.
Walking tour of Roxbury’s historic Nubian Square Exploring the neighborhood’s civil rights history with a special focus on Dr. King is an additional activity Thornton suggests. Participants will see the Dudley Mural, which vividly depicts the neighborhood’s Black community in the 1960s; visit a Black-owned bookstore; grab a burger, fresh ice cream, and a drink at a local Jamaican restaurant; and hear the stories of Roxbury covering local businesses and modern gentrification.
Top photo: CC Flickr/manhhai: bit.ly/3FxQtYO