Honor history and equality with a trip to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his office with a portrait of Mohandas K. Gandhi on the wall. Dr. King was inspired by Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence. Photograph courtesy National Archives & Records Administration
One of the most important figures of positive social impact in U.S. history is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As a leader of the civil rights movement, he helped the United States move on from a past checkered by discrimination and segregation. You can experience the life and work of the man whose dream altered the course of history by visiting the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia.
Nearly a million people visit every year to learn about, be inspired by and pay their respects to Dr. King’s legacy. Admission to the site is free of charge and you can start your tour at the Visitor Center for a brief orientation of the site, Birth Home tour registration, video programs and the “Children of Courage” exhibit. There are also special exhibits in the center’s D.R.E.A.M. Gallery that change from time to time.
Next, you can head to the Peace Plaza, in front of the Visitor Center. Bordered by the Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream” World Peace Rose Garden, the plaza includes a beautiful fountain and the Behold Monument.
The garden is an artistic interpretation of Dr. King’s life and ideals of peace and nonviolence. It features 185 different kinds of roses and is one of five major rose gardens established around the world by International World Peace Rose Gardens. It also showcases the winners of an annual contest in which school students from across the United States and other countries submit poems on peace.
The Behold Monument, by American sculptor Patrick Morelli, is a bold rendering of hope for the future and is not to be missed. The sculpture was a tribute from Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, to her late husband. It serves as an inspiration for all who fight for dignity, social justice and human rights. The ancient African ritual of lifting a newborn child toward the sky, symbolizing heaven, and reciting the words, “Behold the only thing greater than yourself,” inspired Morelli’s work.
After visiting the Peace Plaza, go to The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, also known as The King Center. It has been a global destination, resource center and community institution for over a quarter century. Mrs. King established the center in 1968 to carry forward her husband’s vision of world peace and equality through educational and community programs. It is now being revitalized as a more engaged educational and social change institution. At the center, visit the final resting place of Dr. and Mrs. King and see the exhibits on them, as well as Mohandas K. Gandhi.
Next up, visit Dr. King’s spiritual home, the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he was baptized and gave a trial sermon that led to him being ordained as a minister at the age of 19. In 1960, he became a co-pastor of the church and remained in that position until his death. The church was the site of many important meetings and rallies during the country’s civil rights movement. Family, friends and more than 60,000 followers paid their final respects to Dr. King there on April 9, 1968.
Also, you can walk in Dr. King’s footsteps with a free, ranger-led tour of his Birth Home, where he spent the first 12 years of his life.
On your way out, stop by the National Historic Site’s bookstore to pick up souvenirs, posters, books, stamps and other items related to Dr. King and the civil rights movement.
Travel tip: Check out the site’s Current Conditions webpage to see if there are any closures during your visit.
Kimberly Gyatso is a freelance writer based in San Francisco, California.