A visit to the Atlanta neighborhood in which Martin Luther King Jr. lived
can be a powerful experience as it serves to remind visitors that it wasn't
that long ago when black Americans were denied the civil rights afforded to
Martin Luther King Jr. was born and raised in this house in the Sweet
Auburn neighborhood of Atlanta. Photos by Joan Arehart-Treichel
The neighborhood is located on and around Auburn Avenue in downtown
Atlanta. It is what many African Americans affectionately call Sweet Auburn.
It was the center of black enterprise in Atlanta from the 1890s to the 1940s
and dubbed, during the 1950s, "the richest Negro street in the
Across the street from the original Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King
preached, is the new and larger Ebenezer Baptist Church, built in
King's grandfather bought a 10-room house at 501 Auburn Avenue in 1909.
King was born in the house in 1929 and lived there during the first 12 years
of his life, along with his brother and sister, parents, maternal
grandparents, uncle, and a great aunt. The house is still standing—a
spacious, charming Victorian structure with cream-colored clapboards and
The tomb of the civil-rights leader is the emotional center for visitors
to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. © 2003, Kevin
In 1948 King was ordained a Baptist minister and appointed associate pastor
at Ebenezer Baptist Church, located at 407-13 Auburn Avenue. During the 1960s,
he once again served as co-pastor of the church and planned civil-rights
protest strategies. This historic red-brick structure is still intact and
beautifully maintained. Inside, sun pours through oblong windows and bathes
the pews with a mellow glow. Recordings of King's historic speeches and
meetings with such figures as President John Kennedy bring the passionate
orator to life once again for visitors. They become quiet and are visibly
moved as they listen to such addresses as "I Have a Dream," which
he delivered in the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. That
march brought some 250,000 Americans of various races and creeds together to
demand racial justice for blacks.
Even with its uplifting atmosphere, however, it is hard to forget that the
church was also the scene of several heart-rending events. One was King's
funeral after he was murdered in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Another was the
murder of King's mother in the church itself; she was fatally shot in June
1974 while playing the church organ for a Sunday worship service.
And the neighborhood has still more soul-stirring venues to offer. Visitors
can view King's tomb, dedicated in 1977, and go to Freedom Hall, which
contains personal artifacts and timelines related to King and his wife,
Coretta Scott King, as well as to Rosa Parks, another major figure of the
civil rights movement. They can visit Fire Station Number Six, Atlanta's
oldest remaining firehouse and now a museum that tells the story of the
desegregation of Atlanta's fire department. And they can pay a visit to the
National Park Service Visitor Center, which contains interactive exhibits and
films about King and the movement in which he played a key role. One of the
facts cited in the center is that King traveled to India in 1957 to meet Prime
Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and to learn about Indian teachings of nonviolence,
which King then used in his own quest for American racial justice.
Taken together, King's birth home, Ebenezer Baptist Church, King's tomb,
Freedom Hall, Fire Station Number Six, and the National Park Service Visitor
Center constitute the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.
Surrounding the national historic site is a preservation district, which
helps maintain the historic atmosphere of Sweet Auburn. Most of the buildings
and homes within this district are privately owned since Sweet Auburn is still
very much a thriving community. Moreover, across the street from the historic
Ebenezer Baptist Church where King preached is a modern Ebenezer Baptist
Church, built in 1999. The streamlined, V-shaped building, like its
predecessor, is constructed from a warm, rich red brick.
If King were alive today, he would be pleased that many successful African
Americans reside in Atlanta. In fact, Atlanta has been rated as one of the
best American cities in which African Americans can live and work, Lauren
Kenworthy, public relations specialist for the Atlanta Convention and Visitors
Bureau, told Psychiatric News.
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site is located at 450
Auburn Avenue NE. Additional information is available by phone at (404)
331-5190 or online at<www.nps.gov/malu>.▪