The life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is entwined with the city of Atlanta.
King’s birthplace, his home church and a cultural center devoted to his memory are among the historic sites clustered in the King Historic District near downtown Atlanta.
But there are locations elsewhere in Atlanta that also witnessed history, and played a role in the King story.
Below are some of the other touchstones of King’s Atlanta:
234 SUNSET AVE.
King moved his young family into the modest brick home at 234 Sunset Ave. in 1965, a year after he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
The house is in Vine City, once a middle-class, predominantly black neighborhood, now a problem-plagued locale in the shadow of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The street has been given a historic designation, and the home belongs to the Coretta Scott King Foundation.
The Westside Future Fund was created to help ameliorate the problems of crime, poverty and population loss facing Vine City. Executive director John Ahmann lists many successes in that area — including the opening of the Westside’s first Chick-fil-A, not far from the former King residence.
But, Ahmann writes, “I suspect if Dr. King were to walk his neighborhood, his heart would anguish at the plight he would see.”
Founded in 1886 by a group of former slaves and black businessmen, South-View Cemetery, at 1990 Jonesboro Road, offered access to African-Americans unavailable at Atlanta’s segregated cemeteries.
After his assassination on April 4, 1968, King was buried temporarily at South-View. Two years later, his body was moved to Auburn Avenue, where it would eventually be placed in the tomb at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
King’s parents, Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta King, are both buried at South-View, beneath a combined marker.
Atlanta raconteur Tom Houck, who includes South-View on a bus tour of civil rights historic sites that he conducts each week (civilrightstour.com), said vandals shot up King’s South-View gravesite shortly after he was interred.
In 2006, a coalition of Atlanta’s leaders, organized by then-Mayor Shirley Franklin, raised more than $30 million to acquire a collection of King’s personal papers from the King family, which they donated to Morehouse College. The collection of 10,000 items includes hundreds of handwritten notes, books from King’s library and memoranda to other leaders in the civil rights movement.
(Some of those documents refer to King’s own undergraduate days at Morehouse, which he entered at age 15, skipping his senior year at Booker T. Washington High School.)
The archive is open by appointment to scholars and the public, who can register 24 hours in advance to do research. It is housed in the Archives Research Center at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library, 111 James P. Brawley Drive SW, where an exhibit of facsimiles from the collection is on permanent display.
Also at Morehouse, one can visit the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel, 830 Westview Drive SW, which features a greater-than-life-sized statue of King, gesturing toward the future.
CENTER FOR CIVIL AND HUMAN RIGHTS
The Center for Civil and Human Rights, at 100 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd. in downtown Atlanta, looks at the intersection of the local story of the civil rights movement and the ongoing national story of the evolution of human rights.
In an exhibit called “Rolls Down Like Water,” the center offers a stirring primer on “The American Civil Rights Movement.”
In addition, the center hosts the “Voice to the Voiceless” gallery, an intimate rotating exhibit of documents drawn from the Morehouse collection of King’s papers.
Original documents from the collection are displayed in a small room under subdued lighting (to avoid light damage to the artifacts) where visitors can get an up-close view of the significant and the prosaic moments in King’s life.
GEORGIA STATE CAPITOL
This summer, Gov. Nathan Deal officiated at a ceremony unveiling a new 8-foot statue of King on the northeast quadrant of the State Capitol grounds.
The event occurred during a time fraught with symbolism.
A few years earlier, the governor agreed to have the statue of segregationist U.S. Sen. Tom Watson removed from the Capitol grounds. As King’s statue was going up, statues and monuments honoring Confederate heroes were coming down.
NOBEL PEACE PRIZE DINNER
After King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Atlanta organized a dinner and reception to honor its native son.
When some conservatives expressed reluctance to attend, Robert W. Woodruff, former Coca-Cola president, made it clear that Atlanta needed to show up for the party.
More than 1,600 came to the event, held at the Dinkler Plaza, a 12-story hotel on Williams Street, between Forsyth and Fairlie streets.
That hotel was razed in 1972, to be replaced by a parking deck, but you can still visit the Dunkin Donuts in the deck’s frontage on Forsyth Street, across the street from the Atlanta Central Library.
The March 21 documentary 'The Last Days of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.' on Channel 2 kicked off a countdown of remembrance across the combined platforms of Channel 2 and its partners, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB Radio.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.