Our day in Atlanta turned out to be a day we'll never forget. We wanted to see the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr-- and we found not only his birthplace, but an entire National Historic site that includes his home, his grave, his church and an incredible museum repeating his message. The part of Atlanta where MLK grew up was a segregated all black neighborhood. His family was middle class, and every day he came out to see a block divided with low income workers who lived to his left, and wealthier doctors and insurance agents to his right. Inequality was ever before him. His father also would not support any institutions that were segregated, such as hospitals. Therefore Martin and his brother and sister were all born at home.
Most everyone knows the sad ending to Dr. King's life, but it was powerful for us to learn more about the beginning, and the middle. The wagon pictured above is the very one that carried his body during his funeral procession. It is a humble, simple wagon to signify his work and comraderie with the poor. Did you know that MLK served several years fighting for the rights of underpaid workmen? We were humbled by the extent of his work: the civil rights movement, the Southern Christian Leadership conference, political work, workers unions, the list goes on. While we were there we listened to his message given the night before he was shot. He said "We might not make it to the promised land together, but I promise you, we will make it...... and at my funeral? Don't tell them about my degrees, about my awards, about my nobel peace prize. And don't let them talk too long. Tell them if I did one good thing in my life, it was to love my fellow man...." (paraphrased)
Above is the church where MLK's father and grandfather preached. His first congregation was in Montgomery, Alabama- the same place where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, where MLK was voted the leader of that movement and started a year long political struggle to end segregated bus lines. He eventually moved back to Atlanta and co-pastored Ebeneezer church with his father. This original church is being restored and will be open for tours soon. Below is the modern Ebenezer church, that packs a full house every Sunday.
The kids did the work to become junior rangers for the museum. In the process, we got to meet a reverend who marched along with MLK, and is about to retire from the park service (pictured below with the hat) as well as receive some testing and encouragement from one of the younger rangers. While we were there, several homeless people came in-- I suppose taking a break from the cold. The back two rows of the movie theater where they showed movies of MLK's life were filled with homeless African Americans. A powerful message: is MLK's work done? Just because we have our first black president doen't mean "we have arrived." Racism, privelege, ignorance and poverty are real issues today and one that I myself am guilty of "forgetting." I hope I am forever changed by remembering and experiencing MLK's life and message this day in Atlanta.