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Martin Luther King Jr.’s Atlanta: Other historic sites

The King Center may be the most famous, but Atlanta has other locations that also witnessed history and played a role in the MLK Atlanta story.

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.

Rep. Calvin Smyre (hand on statue) played a role in getting a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. placed on the grounds of the State Capitol. The statue was unveiled this summer on the anniversary of King’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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:

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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.”

RELATED: Atlanta History Center offers free MLK Day admission, special programs

Winifred “Wini” Watts Hemphill is president of South-View Cemetery, founded by former slaves to provide a burial place for African-Americans who had been turned away from segregated facilities elsewhere. South-View is the burial site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s parents, Alberta and MLK Sr. CONTRIBUTED BY JENNI GIRTMAN / ATLANTA EVENT PHOTOGRAPHY (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

SOUTH-VIEW CEMETERY

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.

MOREHOUSE COLLEGE

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.

Marchers take to the streets in this January 2017 photo, as they leave the Center for Civil and Human Rights before the start of the Women’s March in Atlanta. The center hosts a gallery devoted to the papers of Martin Luther King Jr., and also serves as an occasional gathering place for leaders in the human rights movement. DAVID BARNES / SPECIAL TO THE AJC (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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.

Rep. Calvin Smyre (hand on statue) played a role in getting a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. placed on the grounds of the State Capitol. The statue was unveiled in 2017 on the anniversary of King’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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.

Martin Luther King, Jr. listens to Morehouse College President Benjamin E. Mays speak at the Nobel Peace Prize recognition dinner, National Conference of Christians and Jews,Dinkler Plaza Hotel, Atlanta, Georgia, January 27, 1965. LBSCB12-120iii, (Lane Brothers Commercial Photogr)aphers Photographic Collection, 1920-1976. Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library. (Lane Brothers Commercial Photogr)

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

The three Atlanta news sources will release comprehensive multi-platform content until April 9, the anniversary of King’s funeral. 

On April 4, the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, the three properties will devote extensive live coverage to the memorials in Atlanta, Memphis and around the country. 

The project will present a living timeline in real time as it occurred on that day in 1968, right down to the time the fatal shot was fired that ended his life an hour later. 

The project will culminate on April 9 with coverage of the special processional in Atlanta marking the path of Dr. King’s funeral, which was watched by the world.

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