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Maggie Lee

The Kings’ Atlanta, mapped

Martin Luther King Jr and Coretta Scott King lead a march in Atlanta in an undated photo (Credit: Thomas Hawk via GPA archive) Martin Luther King Jr and Coretta Scott King lead a march in Atlanta in an undated photo (Credit: Thomas Hawk via GPA archive)

Updated with more locations

Atlanta’s most famous and important son spent years of his adult life away from the city. Both Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King did advanced studies in New England. Their early adult civil rights work was in Alabama, her home state — and home to his first pulpit, the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery.

After Martin Luther’s assassination, and after their children got older, much of Coretta Scott King’s ongoing work kept her traveling, though Atlanta was home.

But much of the Atlanta the Kings knew is still visible:

1- Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic and Sweet Auburn: The granddaddy of all King sites. Includes the house where King was born on Jan. 15, 1929 and Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he preached; plus The King Center, which continues his work.

King home

Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth home on Auburn Avenue (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Starting in the late 1940s as a graduate student, King would sometimes preach at Ebenezer and at other Atlanta churches. The church would also host conferences and meetings — including the ones on transportation and nonviolent integration that evolved into the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. By 1968, King was preaching at Ebenezer about what would be his last campaign, the Poor People’s Campaign.

2 – D.T. Howard Elementary School, which King attended.

3 – Booker T. Washington High School. King enrolled in 1944.

4 – Morehouse College, King’s next school. Benjamin E. Mays was president of Morehouse during King’s time and would be a strong influence on the younger man. Mays introduced many students to Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence. King himself would work on his oratory, winning a few awards along the way.

In 1946, college student King wrote a letter to the Atlanta Constitution, in response to recent racially motivated murders of Black Georgians by white mobs. King’s letter read in part:

“We want and are entitled to the basic rights and opportunities of American citizens: The right to earn a living at work for which we are fitted by training and ability; equal opportunities in education, health, recreation, and similar public services; the right to vote; equality before the law; some of the same courtesy and good manners that we ourselves bring to all human relations.”

King graduated with an undergraduate degree in sociology in 1948.

5 – King also played basketball at the Butler Street YMCA during college.

6 – In 1956, King was already the veteran leader of the Montgomery bus boycott, and an Alabama court had found him guilty of leading an “illegal” boycott. King’s stature was growing, he was in demand as a preacher and speaker across the country.

So, like every traveler who lives in Alabama, he needed to use Atlanta’s airport. But the Dobbs House restaurant there denied him equal access. The restaurant manager cited city and state law when offering King a “dingy” segregated-area seat, which King declined.

“I think it is an excellent case for a suit,” King soon afterward wrote to an Atlanta attorney. He’d gathered the names of both Black and white witnesses.

7 – After meetings with leaders of the SCLC and the NAACP at Atlanta’s Waluhaje Hotel in December 1959, King and NAACP Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins announce a voter registration campaign.

The King Family Home on Sunset Avenue. File/Credit: David Pendered

The King Family Home on Sunset Avenue. (File/Credit: David Pendered)

8 – Paschal’s restaurant was on what was then West Hunter Street in the 1950s and 1960s — an integrated restaurant and an unofficial headquarters of the Civil Rights Movement.

9 – In 1960, the Kings moved to Atlanta. The Klan figured out where the Kings lived and burnt a cross in the family’s yard. In 1965, the Kings purchased 234 Sunset Avenue in Vine City. The King Family Home is now part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park.

10 – In October 1960, police arrest King and nearly 300 others for joining a sit-in to integrate the dining room at Rich’s Downtown, during days of demonstrations. A judge doubles down on King, saying he’d violated probation on a (spurious) charge from May that year: police had pulled him over on Clifton Road and charged him for driving on a (valid) Alabama license.

“Actually they later admitted in court that they had never fined or arrested anybody on a charge like that, and they really had nothing on the statute to reveal how long you had to be in Atlanta before changing your license. So it was obviously a case of persecution,” King later said.

Nonetheless, after the Rich’s arrest, police held King in DeKalb’s jail. Then officers picked him up, chained him like “some hardened criminal” and took him to the state prison in Reidsville. King wrote a moving letter to Coretta; calls from John F. and Robert Kennedy helped spring him.

11 – Besides countless sermons and letters, King wrote five books. Some of King’s material is on display at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.  Part of his personal bookshelf is there too, and viewable online anytime.

To read more of King’s papers, see a timeline of his life and more, check out The Martin Luther King Jr. Papers project, a cooperative venture among Stanford University, The King Center and the King Estate.

 

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Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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1 Comment

  1. Mark F Arnold January 19, 2021 9:56 am

    D.T. Howard School should be included in this list. King attended school there as a child and it is poised to reopen as the middle school for the Grady Cluster. Its wonderful to see this historic building renovated to serve the next generation of civic leaders. Kudos to the vision of APS and the numerous design professional who made this happen.Report

    Reply

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