How to mark Black History Month in Atlanta

July 20, 2020 Atlanta: Amanda Hiley and her husband Todd Heifner from Birmingham, Alabama placed flowers and a candle at the John Lewis Mural at Jesse Hill Jr. Drive and Auburn Avenue on Monday, July 20, 2020. She met John Lewis at a Equal Justice Initiative gathering and felt compelled to come to Atlanta and leave flowers. The U.S. House of Representatives convened Monday morning for the first time in more than three decades without John Lewis serving as the conscience of Congress. Lewis, 80, died late Friday after a battle with pancreatic cancer, only hours after another civil rights legend, C.T. Vivian, died at age 95. House leaders held a moment of silence. President Donald Trump signed a proclamation ordering flags at half-staff at the White House and all federal properties, including military bases, for Saturday only. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi directed the same for the U.S. Capitol, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms made a similar declaration for Atlanta City Hall and all other city facilities. Both of those orders are in place indefinitely. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
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July 20, 2020 Atlanta: Amanda Hiley and her husband Todd Heifner from Birmingham, Alabama placed flowers and a candle at the John Lewis Mural at Jesse Hill Jr. Drive and Auburn Avenue on Monday, July 20, 2020. She met John Lewis at a Equal Justice Initiative gathering and felt compelled to come to Atlanta and leave flowers. The U.S. House of Representatives convened Monday morning for the first time in more than three decades without John Lewis serving as the conscience of Congress. Lewis, 80, died late Friday after a battle with pancreatic cancer, only hours after another civil rights legend, C.T. Vivian, died at age 95. House leaders held a moment of silence. President Donald Trump signed a proclamation ordering flags at half-staff at the White House and all federal properties, including military bases, for Saturday only. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi directed the same for the U.S. Capitol, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms made a similar declaration for Atlanta City Hall and all other city facilities. Both of those orders are in place indefinitely. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

7 places around Atlanta to learn, celebrate and reflect on Black History

As one of the nation’s epicenters of African American progress, Black history is intertwined with Atlanta. Home to multiple celebrated historically black colleges, this city has played a vital role in the careers of many big names like activist Stacey Abrams, writer and activist James Weldon Johnson, Southern Poverty Law Center co-founder Julian Bond, author Alice Walker, filmmaker Spike Lee and many other pioneers in Black history. Furthermore, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., perhaps the most recognizable figure in the civil rights movement, also found his start in the city.

So, if you’re looking for ways to immerse yourself in Black history, you don’t have to search very far.

“There are just so many places and pockets here in Atlanta to celebrate Black history. You have the Apex museum — not to mention the history of Auburn Avenue and the King Center,” says Nia Damali, owner of the Medu Bookstore in Greenbriar Mall, which will reopen after a brief renovation right in time for Black History Month.

With so much rich cultural history weaved throughout the city, there are countless iconic places and local faces to honor this month, but here are seven great venues to start your journey.

Medu Bookstore at Greenbriar Mall dedicates a section of the store to Kwanzaa items.
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Medu Bookstore at Greenbriar Mall dedicates a section of the store to Kwanzaa items.

Credit: Medu Bookstore

Credit: Medu Bookstore

Black-Owned Bookstores

“I couldn’t think of a greater place to celebrate Black history than within a place of knowledge,” Damali says about her bookstore. In business since 1989 and one of a few remaining Black-owned bookstores in the city, Damali frequently hosts author signings and book readings, including an upcoming event for Rev. Al Sharpton’s latest book this February.

With the renewed spotlight on the Black Lives Matter movement, Damali has welcomed both a surge in support for Black-owned bookstores and a growing interest in reading materials on race and culture.

“Everybody’s trying to understand race relations and understand how to better treat one another and to grow through all of this racism,” she says.

When asked for a few recommended readings to celebrate this month, the author and bookshop owner offers:

“‘The Mis-Education of the Negro,’ by Carter G. Woodson. I will suggest books like ‘Destruction of Black Civilization” [by Chancellor Williams],” she advises. “I would mention books like ‘Stamped,’ dealing with race relations. And if I have another choice, I would say something like the book called ‘PowerNomics’ in terms of economic empowerment.”

Medu Bookstore, Greenbriar Mall, 2841 Greenbriar Pkwy. SW, Atlanta. 404-346-3263, medubookstore.com.

ExploreBlack History month in Atlanta
A storyteller entertains the children as a part of Kwanzaa activities at the APEX Museum. (Akili-Casundria Ramsess/Special to the AJC)
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A storyteller entertains the children as a part of Kwanzaa activities at the APEX Museum. (Akili-Casundria Ramsess/Special to the AJC)

APEX Museum

The APEX museum is intentional about shaping the narrative that Black history doesn’t begin with slavery. In their permanent exhibit, “Africa the Untold Story,” visitors can learn the history of ancient African civilization.

For those interested in local area history, the museum also exhibits the Black experience in Georgia — with everything from slavery documents and artifacts to a standing replica of a Black-owned pharmacy, which served as a staple of the Black community in 1920s Atlanta. Due to COVID, visitors are admitted during time slots, and advanced online purchase is recommended.

Starting at $8. APEC Museum, 135 Auburn Ave. NE, Atlanta, 404-523-2739, apexmuseum.org.

The Atlanta Life Insurance Company building.
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The Atlanta Life Insurance Company building.

Sweet Auburn District

After the APEX, continue your journey through history with a literal stroll down Auburn Avenue. Listed as a National Historic Landmark, the Sweet Auburn District was a center for Black commerce and one of the wealthiest African American communities in the nation during the early 20th century.

Among those earlier prominent businesses was the Atlanta Life Insurance Company. Today, visitors can make a quick stop to view the outside of the ALI building, which was founded in 1905 by sharecropper-turned-businessman, Alonzo Herndon, Atlanta’s first black millionaire. Known for its community activism and contributions to building Black wealth, the ALI was widely viewed as a cornerstone of the district.

Before leaving Auburn, consider paying your respects to a few civil rights legends. The mural of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis (at the corner of Jesse Hill Jr. Drive and Auburn Avenue) was already a popular photo stop prior to his passing last summer; it’s now sure to remain a memorial attraction. Just a block down, at Bell Street and Auburn, you can also visit the mural of the late Evelyn Lowery, a champion of equal rights and the wife of the late civil rights icon Rev. Joseph P. Lowery, who passed away in March 2020.

ExploreMore ways to mark Black History Month in Atlanta
The Eternal Flame burns near the King tomb at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.
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The Eternal Flame burns near the King tomb at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.

Credit: AJC file

Credit: AJC file

King Center, King Birth Home and Ebenezer Baptist Church

Continuing down Auburn Avenue, you’ll find the King Center. Outside the Center, you can view the marble crypts of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife and fellow freedom fighting legend Coretta Scott King. Then, visit the Center for a deeper look into the legacy of King and his lifelong quest for civil rights.

Next, view the birth home of King, which is also on Auburn Avenue. Lastly, visit the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King and his father preached. The church now has new historical significance as its latest senior pastor, Rev. Raphael Warnock, recently became the first Black senator from the state of Georgia.

(As of deadline, tours of the King Birth Home and the historic Ebenezer Church were suspended due to COVID-19 precautions; but tourists are welcome to view the outside grounds. For virtual tours and operation hours, check with the National Parks Service website).

The King Center, 449 Auburn Ave. NE Atlanta, 404-526-8968, thekingcenter.org; King’s Birth Home, 501 Auburn Ave. NE, Atlanta, 404-331-6922; Ebenezer Baptist Church (Heritage Sanctuary), 407 Auburn Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-331-6922.

The Center for Civil and Human Rights looks at the intersection of the local story of the civil rights movement and the ongoing national story of the evolution of human rights. (REANN HUBER/REANN.HUBER@AJC.COM)
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The Center for Civil and Human Rights looks at the intersection of the local story of the civil rights movement and the ongoing national story of the evolution of human rights. (REANN HUBER/REANN.HUBER@AJC.COM)

National Center for Civil and Human Rights

While the museum is dedicated to exploring the fight for human rights and equality all around the world, the site offers a thorough showcase of the American civil rights movement through a series of photos, videos and interactive displays. There are even a few interesting moments of local Black history depicted in the museum, including features on local leaders and how Atlanta-based businesses contributed to civil rights efforts in the city.

Now until April 9, the center invites you to view their virtual exhibit at WeShareTheDream.org, which shares King’s message for uniting all of humankind.

National Center for Civil and Human Rights, 100 Ivan Allan Jr. Blvd., Atlanta. civilandhumanrights.org.

W.E.B. Du Bois (center, wearing white hat) co-founded the Niagara Movement, just one example of his civil rights activism while working as a professor at Atlanta University. This 1905 portrait of the group's co-founders also includes Atlanta entrepreneur Alonzo Herndon (back row, second from left) and educator John Hope of Augusta (back row, third from left).
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W.E.B. Du Bois (center, wearing white hat) co-founded the Niagara Movement, just one example of his civil rights activism while working as a professor at Atlanta University. This 1905 portrait of the group's co-founders also includes Atlanta entrepreneur Alonzo Herndon (back row, second from left) and educator John Hope of Augusta (back row, third from left).

Credit: Library of Congress

Credit: Library of Congress

Atlanta History Center

During Black History Month, the Atlanta History Center is hosting virtual talks with acclaimed authors like Thomas Holt, author of “The Movement: The African American Struggle for Civil Rights,” and Chad Sanders, author of “Black Magic: What Black Leaders Learned from Trauma and Triumph.”

On site through Feb. 28, guests of the Atlanta History Center can see the “Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow” exhibit, which tells the story of the Black American fight for equal rights. While the larger photo and artifact exhibit was created in collaboration with the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the New York Historical Society, the Atlanta History Center includes a section on localized history. The exhibit features segments on Atlanta’s HBCU history and art by Black artists on loan from the Clark Atlanta University Art Museum, the High Museum and the Georgia Museum of Art. Due to COVID, visitors are admitted in time slots; and advanced online purchase for time slots and tickets are recommended.

Tickets starting at $9.80. Atlanta History Center, 130 West Paces Ferry Road NW., Atlanta. 404-814-4000, atlantahistorycenter.com.

This film image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in a scene from "42."
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This film image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in a scene from "42."

Credit: D. Stevens / Warner Bros. Pictures

Credit: D. Stevens / Warner Bros. Pictures

Screening From Your Own Home

Because of COVID-19, we’re all spending more time socially distancing in our own homes. Fortunately, you don’t have to leave your house to celebrate Atlanta Black history. Thanks to streaming platforms, the stories of some of the city’s legendary trailblazers are available to watch from the comfort of your couch.

Check out the documentary “Maynard” to learn about the life and work of Atlanta’s first black mayor, Maynard Holbrook Jackson. Also, watch “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” another insightful documentary that explores the late Georgia representative’s long career as a social activist.

For a couple of Black history biopics, check out “42,” which was partially filmed in Atlanta and stars the late actor Chadwick Boseman as baseball icon and Georgia native Jackie Robinson. Also, consider watching (or re-watching) “Selma,” which chronicles the events leading up to King’s historic march to Selma, Alabama, that sparked the passing of the Voting Rights Act.