Atlanta History Center offers free MLK Day admission, special programs

It has been 50 years since the assassination of civil rights icon the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and yet his legacy lives on as large as ever.

For 2018’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 15, the Atlanta History Center will offer free admission to attendees and, for the second year in a row, a slate of special programming.

RELATED | 11 Atlanta events that honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

“We made the decision (to offer special programming) in 2017 because we saw such an opportunity to bring our museum theater program offerings to a large crowd,” said Joanna Arietta Potter, director of adult and family programs at the Atlanta History Center.

The Buckhead-based institution has offered free admission on MLK Day since 2013, drawing a record 3,089 visitors last year. Free admission will also be offered at the Margaret Mitchell House at Atlanta History Center Midtown. Both locations will be open from 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday.

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Scheduled free programming is intended to engage a local audience with segregation and civil rights movement-sparked integration, with a special emphasis on Atlanta’s key role in the story.

Filmmaker Althea Brown created "A Trek to the River's Edge," a half-hour documentary about the 1960s civil rights leaders from the Atlanta University Center. CONTRIBUTED

A highlight for 2018 will be two screenings of the film “A Trek to the River’s Edge.” Created by filmmaker Althea Brown, the film highlights 1960s student leaders from the Atlanta University Center.

Brown said she’s been working on the project for more than two decades. In its present form, the film lasts 30 minutes, but she envisions a feature-length version at some point. She said the story’s tremendous significance has inspired her to stick with the project for so long.

“About 20 years ago, I met a group of shakers and movers from the Atlanta student movement,” said Brown. “Their story was so dynamic, and not that many people even know about it.”

RELATED | Where to volunteer for MLK Day of Service 2018

The film features several well-known Atlanta civil rights leaders, including former state Sen. and NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, who passed away in 2015. Bond and fellow students including Lonnie King and Roslyn Pope launched the movement after meeting at a Morehouse College coffee shop, authoring “An Appeal for Human Rights” in March 1960, which ran in several newspapers, including The Atlanta Constitution.

RELATED | What you should know about the legacy of Julian Bond

Brown notes that students and future leaders can learn from and be inspired by the 1960s leaders to continue fighting injustice.

“The thing about this particular movement is that it happened strategically,” said Brown. “There was a plan put in place. They followed that plan; they thought strategically on how to make things happen. Yelling and screaming and shouting hadn’t worked in the past. It doesn’t work now.”

College students and young professionals took to Atlanta's streets to organize against segregation and Jim Crow laws during the 1960s. CONTRIBUTED

“A Trek to the River’s Edge” will be shown at 1 and 3 p.m., with a discussion following each screening. Other programming scheduled for MLK Day includes a Freedom Ride simulation and several screenings of “The Big March,” which details the 1963 March on Washington. Visitors are encouraged to check for schedule updates.

Potter emphasized that the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s was not the only time people have fought against inequality and bigotry.

“All too often, history books focus on sole figures during the civil rights movement and don’t pay enough attention to the young people on college campuses, such as those of the Atlanta University Center, where a lot of the work to gain equality was being done,” said Potter. “It is super inspiring to see the former student leaders and hear about their experiences.”

She pointed out that there are many reasons why it is so important to continue honoring King through programming and other events, especially in Atlanta.

“King’s birthplace and home are here in Atlanta, he is important as a leader in the civil rights movement, and the echoes of his nonviolent protests still resonate today with social justice change,” said Potter. “We see Dr. King as an important figure in his own right, and also as a representation of what a community can do when it comes together to fight injustice.”

Here is a sampling of the programming that will be offered (check for updates):


“A Trek to the River’s Edge” film screening and conversation

Woodruff Auditorium

1 and 3 p.m.

Duration: 1 hour

“A Trek to the River’s Edge” is a documentary about the Atlanta Student Movement of the 1960s and outlines the strategy, planning and support from the larger community striving to overcome the oppression of segregation. Hear filmmaker Althea Brown and 1960s student leaders of the group Committee on Appeal for Human Rights discuss this challenging period in Atlanta’s history.


Freedom Ride simulation

Grand Overlook Ballroom

11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m.

Duration: 45 minutes

Parental guidance suggested

Do you have what it takes to be a civil rights movement Freedom Fighter? In this interactive theatrical simulation, test your courage by traveling into the Deep South on a Freedom Ride with CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) representatives and help test new laws banning segregation on interstate buses.


“Gatheround: Stories of Atlanta” exhibition

11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m.

Duration: 15 minutes

Join a paperboy in 1906 as he educates new recruits on the “tricks of the trade” while highlighting the challenges he encountered as a witness to the Atlanta Race Riot that year.

“Connie Curry”

“Gatheround: Stories of Atlanta” exhibition

10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m.

Duration: 15 minutes

Gather in the exhibition’s diner-styled space to meet activist Connie Curry as she trains a new group of student volunteers for the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and explores her journey in the struggle for civil rights.

“Rosalyn Walton”

“Gatheround: Stories of Atlanta” exhibition

10:15 a.m., 11:15 a.m., 1:15 p.m., 2:15 p.m., 3:15 p.m., 4:15 p.m.

Duration: 12 minutes

Encounter Rosalyn Walton of the Atlanta Nine — a group of trailblazing students who integrated Atlanta schools — as she is being interviewed by a reporter and concludes that being a regular teenager is nearly as difficult as being a trailblazer for civil rights.


“The Big March” (Newsreel, 1963) and “March on Washington” (1963) features from the DVD “Martin Luther King: ‘I Have a Dream’”

Kennedy Theatre

10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m.

Duration: 25 minutes

View newsreel footage captured during the March on Washington, the Aug. 28, 1963, political rally, a key moment in the civil rights movement that culminated in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

“I Have a Dream” (1963)

Kennedy Theatre

11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m.

Duration: 20 minutes

Watch the landmark speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. as he addressed a crowd of more than 200,000 in Washington, D.C.


Make protest buttons and signs.

Create inspiring resistance poetry.

Note: Funding for this program is provided by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners under the guidance of the Fulton County Arts Council.

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