Black History Month bucket list: 6 must-see Atlanta landmarks

Places to visit for understanding and marking Atlanta’s contributions to the civil rights movement and Black History Month
The boyhood home (center) of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta is currently closed for renovations but there’s still lots to see in this neighborhood. (JESSICA MCGOWAN / 2009 AJC file photo)

The boyhood home (center) of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta is currently closed for renovations but there’s still lots to see in this neighborhood. (JESSICA MCGOWAN / 2009 AJC file photo)

Atlanta is never short on special events and exhibits to observe Black History Month.

What distinguishes this city from every other is that millions of tourists flock here from all points of the globe for the specific purpose of heralding its achievements in overcoming a past marred by discrimination, misunderstanding and disadvantage based on race.

Here are six institutions that should be on your bucket list for understanding and marking Atlanta’s contributions to Black History Month.

Herndon Home

587 University Place NW, Atlanta,

For proof positive of the human capacity to overcome all manners of strife and realize the American Dream, go to the historical house built by Atlanta’s first black millionaire.

Alonzo Herndon was born into slavery on a plantation 40 miles east of the city in 1858 and toiled in sharecropper fields as a child after the Emancipation Proclamation. With meager means and tireless energy, Herndon made his way to Atlanta and established a chain of barber shops that catered to the state’s men of influence. He parlayed his connections into a banking and life insurance empire that Southern Blacks trusted in near exclusivity. Part of his fortune was spent in 1910 to have Black craftsmen design and build an opulent two-story mansion near the Atlanta University Center.

The house is open 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, but tours have been suspended until further notice.

Martin Luther King Jr. birth home

501 Auburn Ave., Atlanta

The tiny house where Martin Luther King Jr. was born is the highlight of Atlanta’s Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Time stands still, and visitors get a stark reminder that the dreamer who died too young was once just a child growing up in a tiny house on the outskirts of downtown. On view during a guided tour: the quaint, antiquated kitchen where the King family meals were prepared; the postage-stamp of a backyard where MLK and his siblings frolicked; the immaculate parlor overlooking Sweet Auburn where guests were received; the formal dining room where family meals were prayed over; and the upstairs bedrooms — strewn with toys — where the King children were born and raised.

National Center for Civil and Human Rights

100 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd. NW, Atlanta

In its inaugural year of existence, this downtown attraction gained worldwide acclaim for providing state-of-the-art depictions of triumphs over discrimination waged by singular figures and en masse demonstrators. The spectrum of permanent interactive exhibits range from staggering re-enactments of lunch counter sit-ins and protest marches during the civil rights movement (“Rolls Down Like Water”), to video stream booths where common international causes against violence and prejudice are shared (“Stream of Conviction”), and a dazzling array of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s written work and memorabilia are displayed on a rotating basis (“Voice to the Voiceless”). The NCCHR routinely stages lectures and exhibits to continually spark interest in causes and victories advancing universal dignity and understanding.

Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change

449 Auburn Ave NE, Atlanta

Spanning 23 acres on the eastern edge of downtown Atlanta, the King Center and its ancillary attractions (i.e., Ebenezer Baptist Church) is in its 57th year of welcoming visitors to immerse themselves in King’s thoughts, deeds and legacy. Permanent exhibits at the center include: artifacts belonging to King and his stoic wife, Coretta Scott King; a room of art and memorabilia dedicated to desegregation pioneer Rosa Parks; and a replica of the Nobel Prize for Peace that King — age 35 at the time — was awarded in 1964; and a gallery in tribute to the nonviolent protest architect, Mohandas Gandhi.

Atlanta University Center

156 Mildred St. SW, Atlanta

Since the end of the Civil War, the Black centers of higher in education based within a few miles of each other in Atlanta’s West End have produced more influence over American culture, politics and theology than history can measure. Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta, Morris Brown and Spelman College boast an alumni roster that includes: Martin Luther King Jr.; gold medal Olympic hurdler Edwin Mose; authors Alice Walker, Pearl Cleage, James Weldon Johnson; theatrical artists Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson; and politicians Maynard H. Jackson, Julian Bond.

Oakland Cemetery

248 Oakland Ave. SE, Atlanta

An original signer of America’s Declaration of Independence — Augusta slave owner George Walton — and the descendants of slaves share separate but equal spaces of reverence in Atlanta’s most prominent graveyard. The first slave child was buried in the panoramic burial ground in 1853, and a large portion of the six-acre complex has had its name changed from ”Slave Square” to “Potter’s Field” and the “African American section” since. The manner of deaths experienced by most of Oakland’s entombed Blacks is unspeakable and forgotten. But personal and digital guides point visitors toward plots that revive the spirits of many of Atlanta’s “first” and most revered Black doctors, politicians, preachers, artists and entrepreneurs.

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