Monday, January 17, is the 36th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Dr. King’s dream has yet to be fulfilled as the Black population in the United States endlessly fights against racial discrimination.
Although black-and-white photographs manipulate masses by implying the Civil Rights Movement is ancient history, the movement began only 68 years ago. Most notably in Georgia and Alabama, African Americans participated in boycotts, rallies, marches, civil disobedience, and sit-ins throughout the nation, resulting in several National Historic Landmarks.
A National Historic Landmark is a historic property that illustrates the heritage of the United States. Many landmarks, including churches, courthouses, schools, and parks, make up the sites where moments of change occurred, and many still stand today.
In honor of MLK Day, we highlight six National Historic Landmarks to visit to commemorate Dr. King and the activists who fought alongside him during the Civil Rights Movement.
Ebenezer Baptist Church
The sanctuary, located in Atlanta, Georgia, was a reliable spiritual home throughout Dr. King's lifetime. Although the original Ebenezer Baptist Church was founded in 1886, the current church on Auburn Avenue was completed in 1922, according to the U.S. National Park Service. Those walls sheltered Dr. King from adolescence to his untimely demise.
Dr. King was baptized at Ebenezer as a child and was ordained as a minister at the tender age of 19 after giving a trial sermon to the congregation. In 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became a co-pastor of Ebenezer with his father, Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. His notoriety brought the church international prestige. Dr. King held this position until his assassination in 1968. As a final farewell, Dr. King's home going service was held at Ebenezer with as many as 100,000 mourners in attendance. Due to the Save America's Treasures Grant and the contributions of many individuals and corporations, the U.S. National Park Service restored the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in 2001.
Today, Ebenezer has a congregation of over 6,000 led by Rev. Raphael G. Warnock. According to the Ebenezer Baptist website, Rev. Warnock will stream his annual celebration service for Dr. King's Shabbat on January 14.
Edmund Pettus Bridge
On March 7, 1965, a peaceful march for voting rights turned violent when law enforcement attacked six hundred marchers. Led by activists John Lewis and Hosea Williams, protestors began a 50-mile march to Montgomery, Alabama, from Brown Chapel AME Church. The Edmund Pettus Bridge, named after the Confederate general and grand dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, was the site for the ruthless Bloody Sunday, connecting Selma to Montgomery. The televised attack seen nationwide enticed public support for the voting rights campaign and the civil rights activists in Selma.
According to the History network, after obtaining a federal court order permitting the protest, voting rights marchers, including Dr. King, left Selma on March 21 with National Guard troops as protection. Four days later, they reached Montgomery with an accumulated 25,000 marchers. “There never was a moment in American history more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger at the side of its embattled Negroes,” King said in the Address at the Conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March. Less than five months later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965.
The A.G. Gaston Motel
Since opening in 1954, the A.G. Gaston Motel was at the epicenter of Birmingham’s civil rights protests and demonstrations. Built as a place of luxury for African Americans during segregation by businessman and entrepreneur Arthur George Gaston, the Gaston Motel was the site for high-level civil rights strategy meetings and events.
Following the Brown v. Board of Education decision, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights founder, approached Dr. King and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1962 to join forces to champion desegregation and equality within the city. Dr. King and fellow civil rights leaders resided in Room 30 of the Gaston Motel from April through May of 1963, as they planned the Birmingham Campaign (Project C) to desegregate Birmingham.
On May 10, 1963, the A.G. Gaston Motel hosted the announcement of the truce between local white business owners, city officials, and civil rights leaders to compromise on a timeline to integrate the city. The following day, a bombing occurred directly under Room 30, also called the “War Room.” Though the room was vacant, the motel was severely damaged. In response to the bombing, civil rights advocates held large demonstrations in Kelly Ingram Park. These demonstrations inspired solidarity protests throughout the country over several weeks, the U.S. National Park Service states.
Though the A.G. Gaston Motel had fallen into disrepair and sat vacant for more than 20 years, according to a statement released in 2021 by Rick Journey, the Director of Communications for the City of Birmingham, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a $1.1 million grant to the City of Birmingham’s restoration of the historic motel. The City of Birmingham has already committed $10 million towards the restoration. Phase 2 of restoration is currently underway on the exterior of the coffee shop, dining room, and courtyard. Work is expected to be completed in early summer 2022.
The King Center
The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park encompasses seven historical sites: The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent and Social Change, Inc., commonly known as The King Center. More than a memorial, The King Center encourages exploration of their Atlanta compound for inspiration, education, and to pay respects to Dr. King’s legacy. According to their website, founder Coretta Scott King envisioned The King Center to be “No dead monument, but a living memorial filled with all the vitality that was his, a center of human endeavor, committed to the causes for which he lived and died.”
Established in 1968, The King Center campus contains the Eternal Flame and Reflecting Pool, symbolizing the continuous efforts to achieve Dr. King’s dream. Greeted by art from Africa and Georgia, the main floor of the Freedom Hall exhibition features The Yolanda D. King Theatre for the Performing Arts, a bookstore, and a resource center. Currently, the second floor is utilized as an exhibit space honoring Dr. and Mrs. King, Mahatma Gandhi, and Rosa Parks. At the center of the compound resides Dr. and Mrs. King’s crypt. The grounds have been Dr. King’s final resting place since 1970. In 2006, his crypt was rebuilt to include the remains of Mrs. King.
As CEO, Dr. Bernice A. King plans to enhance The King Center by preserving and digitizing their exclusive archives, launching an innovative digital strategy and conference series to bring the King legacy to a modern audience and developing innovative programs and partnerships that further Dr. King’s work worldwide. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, The King Center is temporarily closed. However, for the 2022 King Holiday Observance, the King Center will be hosting multiple virtual experiences.
Dexter Parsonage Museum
Dr. King and his family lived in the nine-room parsonage from September 1954 to February 1960, while he pastored at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. In addition to the residence, The Dexter Parsonage Museum consists of an Interpretive Center and the King-Johns Garden for Reflection.
According to the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, Convention, and Visitor Bureau, the Interpretive Center, located across from the parsonage, features a gift shop and an orientation room for viewing videos and conducting discussion groups on Dr. King’s family, community, and pastoral life. The permanent exhibit in the Interpretive Center includes a timeline of photographs of the 12 Dexter pastors, a wall of “Pastoral Wisdom” quotations, unpublished photos of Dr. King, Dexter members, local leaders, and Montgomery ministers active in the bus boycott.
The parsonage, built-in 1912, was bombed several times during the fight for civil rights, but fortunately, no one was injured. Today, the renovated parsonage includes original furniture and appears as it did when occupied by Dr. King and his family.
The National Center for Civil and Human Rights
Opened in downtown Atlanta in 2014 by Civil Rights leader Evelyn Lowery and former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, and launched by former Mayor Shirley Franklin, The National Center for Civil and Human Rights is a historical museum that connects the American Civil Rights Movement to today’s Global Human Rights Movements.
While promoting research and education, The Center uses immersive exhibitions, dynamic events and conversations, and engagement and training programs to create a safe space for visitors. The Center contains permanent and temporary exhibits that empower visitors to join the ongoing dialogue about human rights. Currently, the museum hosts three permanent exhibitions, “Rolls Down Like Water: U.S. Civil Rights Movement,” “Spark of Conviction: Global Human Rights Movement,” and “Voice to the Voiceless: Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection.”
The first floor of The National Center for Civil and Human Rights focuses on Dr. King displaying the “Voice to the Voiceless” gallery and the new permanent art installation, “FRAGMENTS.” Designer Paula Scher’s creation consists of an illuminated metal structure featuring engravings in King’s handwriting.
On January 15 and 17, The Center is hosting a celebration in honor of Dr. King’s life and legacy with activities and programs including interactive storytimes, visual artist talkbacks, and spoken word performances.