Home to the Martin Luther King Jr National Historical Park and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta should top your list of destinations for a Civil Rights tour.
Atlanta’s easiest claim to Civil Rights fame is as the home of the legendary Martin Luther King Jr, who led the Civil Rights Movement in the United States until his assassination in 1968. King’s legacy looms large in Atlanta, of course, but the city has a wealth of black history to explore.
Start at the Martin Luther King Jr National Historical Park Visitor Center
Enter the visitor center via the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame, which recognizes the contributions of Civil Rights leaders such as politician Maxine Waters, poet Maya Angelou, Prime Minister of the Bahamas Perry Gladstone Christie, and US President Jimmy Carter. The rest of the park offers plenty of opportunities to walk around and enjoy the green area that stretches between Ebenezer Baptist Church and the other parts of the complex, all of which is run by the National Park Service.
Born in 1929, Martin Luther King Jr grew up in the Sweet Auburn Historic District, now one of the coolest neighborhoods in Atlanta. King’s Birth Home is part of the National Historical Park; free guided tours are offered three times a day, but there are only 15 spots on each tour so arrive early to get your name on the list.
Founded by Coretta Scott King soon after the assassination of her husband in 1968, The Martin Luther King Jr Center for Nonviolent Social Change – usually known as The King Center – works to preserve Dr King’s legacy of peaceful activism. Also located in the National Historical Park, The King Center features the Freedom Hall where visitors can learn more about King’s work; however, the most moving part of the center is the crypt where both Dr King and Coretta Scott King rest. The tomb is surrounded by a reflecting pool and sits adjacent to an eternal flame.
King got his start in public speaking as a preacher. Following in his father’s footsteps, King became co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was founded in 1886. While the church still stands, the congregation has grown significantly and now hosts services at a larger building across the street. The historic church building has been restored and is now open to visitors.
See the Southern Christian Leadership Conference National Office
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The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) is a civil-rights organization formed in 1957 with Martin Luther King Jr as its first president. Its activities during the height of the Civil Rights Movement included the March on Washington, the Selma Voting Rights Campaign and the March to Montgomery. The SCLC is still active today and offers opportunities to volunteer with new campaigns and initiatives.
Delve into African American history at the APEX Museum
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The African American Panoramic Experience (APEX) Museum highlights African American contributions to culture and society, especially within Georgia. The museum is small, but its scope is broad: its focus goes further back in time than the 20th century’s Civil Rights Movement, covering the history of slavery in the United States. Staff are knowledgeable and friendly, too.
Open since 2014, the Center invites visitors to walk through the history of the Civil Rights Movement, up to and including the work of activists today, interacting with exhibits as they go. The reconstruction of the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins offers an intimate experience, with moving seats and headphones playing audio that simulates the taunts and threats thrown at activists. Visitors are reminded as they leave that they too can help make the world a more just place.
Alonzo Herndon was born into slavery in 1858 – yet he grew up to be Atlanta’s first black millionaire and one of the most wealthy African Americans in the country through his founding of the American Life Insurance Company. His home – designed by his first wife, actor and activist Adrienne McNeil Herndon – now operates as The Herndon Home Museum, and is dedicated to raising awareness of the Herndons’ legacy and the contributions of Atlanta’s African American community.
Enjoy authentic Southern cuisine at Paschal’s Restaurant
Restaurant, BBQ, South American, $$$
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Paschal’s Restaurant serves up history alongside classic Southern eats: it stood as a spot where Civil Rights leaders could eat and discuss plans for the future of the movement. Enjoy ‘Paschal’s famous 1947 fried chicken’, macaroni and cheese grits or Chef Banks’s gumbo.
Oakland Cemetery, Oakland Avenue Southeast | Courtesy of Historic Oakland Foundation
These hallowed grounds are the final resting place of many Civil Rights heroes. Burial grounds were racially segregated until the 1960s, meaning numerous prominent African Americans were buried in Oakland Cemetery. During Black History Month and on Martin Luther King Jr Day, the Historic Oakland Foundation offers special tours that take visitors past notable figures such as Thomas Askew, one of the first black professional photographers in Atlanta; co-founder of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Marie Woolfolk Taylor; and realtor Antoine Graves Sr.