Want to see more travel posts? I started a new blog just about travel: Boxy Colonial on the Road
A couple of weeks ago, Dave’s friend from college/best man from our wedding, Matt, came for a visit. We tried to think of a very Atlanta thing to do while he was here (he’d never been here before, except very briefly for our wedding 15 years ago) and decided on the MLK, Jr. National Historic Site. Which is also somewhere we’ve been meaning to go ourselves (Ari went there with his Georgia history class awhile back, but the rest of us hadn’t been). And you know how I love rangers.
The site consists of a visitor center with a small museum, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Dr. and Mrs. King’s gravesite and reflecting pool, The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and the home where MLK was born. The website recommends a few different itineraries based on how much time you have available; I’d say that if you give yourself three hours you’ll have plenty of time to see everything without feeling rushed. But you could hit the highlights easily in an hour or two as well, particularly if you don’t make it into a tour of the birthplace. There’s no admission fee for anything at the site.
There’s a large parking lot adjacent to the visitor center, and we were surprised to find it pretty much entirely full, with people making their own parking spaces along the edges. We got there around 10:30 or 11 on a Sunday morning, and the website had mentioned Sunday mornings as a relatively uncrowded time to visit. We eventually figured out that what must have been happening was that people use the lot for parking for Ebenezer Baptist Church, so, while Sunday mornings aren’t particularly crowded at the visitor center, the parking situation is a little dicey. We lucked out and came across someone leaving a space, though, so it all worked out.
We checked out the visitor center first, and picked up Junior Ranger books for Milo and Gus. We noticed right away that they already had out a sign saying all the tours of the birthplace for the day were already full. I knew from checking out the website beforehand that this often happens. They do the tours once an hour, and only 15 people at a time can go. We’d been on the fence about whether we should attempt it with Abe anyway, so it’s probably just as well. Another time!
The visitor center shows a movie about Dr. King every half hour or so, so we watched that, toured the small museum (in the lobby there are exhibits aimed at kids, about what it was like to grow up in the segregated south), and Milo and Gus worked on their Junior Ranger books. I took Abe outside to walk around (there’s even a small playground on the grounds) for the first part of the movie, but we came back in for the last few minutes and he actually did okay.
Perhaps you’ll recall our frustration with the 40 page long Junior Ranger workbooks at Chickamauga. I’m happy to report that the books here are about 12 pages long. But Milo still got tired of writing and didn’t finish his. But Gus did! (Matt brought those shirts for the kids from Rutgers, where he works. I’m not sure what the Star Wars/Rutgers connection is supposed to be, exactly).
We went across the street next to see the gravesite and the King Center:
The King Center has a few more small exhibits upstairs, including some of Dr. and Mrs.King’s clothes, a room with an exhibit about Gandhi, and another about Rosa Parks.
Then we walked over to the birthplace, passing the fire station (closed. I guess you can go in on weekdays? I’m not sure what’s in there):
In addition to the birthplace, you can walk up and down Auburn Ave. and see (from the outside) and read about other houses on the street. Next door to the birthplace is a nice gift/bookshop (we counted four gift shops total on site, but this one was by far the largest). From there, you can sit on the front porch and listen in on the tour that’s just starting next door. I mean, that’s not an official thing, but we happened to catch it.
We saved Ebenezer Baptist Church (the church where Dr. King’s father was the head pastor for many years and where Dr. King co-pastored with him) for last. I was a little unsure what the deal was here, since it was Sunday: would we be able to go in? Oh, the suspense!
But it turns out they built a new sanctuary across the street (right next to the visitor center) awhile back; so they hold regular services there and the old church is a permanent museum. Right as we walked in, a ranger was telling everyone that a “historic reenactment” was about to start downstairs in the fellowship hall. That sounded pretty exciting, so we hurried down. There was a guy there giving a history of the church and MLK’s role there. “This is nice and informative,” I thought, “but I wouldn’t call it a ‘historical reenactment.'” Then! He finished his talk and launched into a very authentic recreation of the entire “I Have a Dream” speech. From memory. So that was pretty impressive. Word is he does the Nobel acceptance speech, too.
Then we went upstairs and saw the sanctuary. I’m glad we listened to the history of the church first, because it made seeing the sanctuary and some of the details there more meaningful.
When we came out, we discovered that we’d just missed a big downpour….one that had been threatening all day but had kindly held off until we were inside. We all enjoyed the visit and learned a lot; I can’t believe we’d never been there before. It was even a pretty good place for Abe, since there were plenty of open spaces for him to wander around in, and the actual museum-y parts were fairly small. I’m thinking another trip when Abe is around 4 to tour the birthplace is in order.