When I was growing up in Atlanta, GA, I was taught to emulate Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a man who never backed down fighting against racism and he dedicated his life to achieving equality and justice for all Americans of all colors. I was highly aware of who he was and how much he had changed the world I was growing up in.
I want my children to have the same knowledge, so on our recent trip to Atlanta, I took them for a visit to the King Center, an amazing museum dedicated to his life and work. The complex which spreads over a few blocks also houses the crypts with the remains of King and his wife, the house he grew up in, the church he prayed in and a Freedom Hall.
Established in 1968 by Mrs. Coretta Scott King, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (“The King Center”) has been a global destination, resource center and community institution for over a quarter century. Nearly a million people each year make pilgrimage to the National Historic Site to learn, be inspired and pay their respects to Dr. King’s legacy.
The museum is truly a living memorial filled with all the vitality that was his, committed to the causes for which he lived and died.” There are photos, videos and living artifacts, like the cart that carried King’s coffin during his funeral. It’s an excellent education on the civil rights movement, racial equality and the struggle of race relations during and since the time he was alive. This was the first museum I’ve really ever visited with my kids, ages 7 and 9, where they paid full attention and were genuinely interested in the subject, particularly my daughter, who seemed to grasp the struggle that African Americans faced until MLK came along and how he changed the world. My son was a bit more obsessed with the mock jail cell that they have on display (he likes doors, has since he was 2 years-old):
But that was fine, whatever it takes to get the point across. We read about the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, he March on Washington where he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, the Albany Movement, “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, the Poor People’s Campaign, Rosa Parks, Gandi’s influence on his beliefs and more. We watched a movie about MLK’s youth and learned about the first time when he realized that the white boy across the street was no longer allowed to play with him. It was hard to hear, but it planted the seed in my children’s brains about how hard it is to be excluded and why it was so important for MLK to fight for civil rights. It was the first time my son heard about the separate toilets and how African Americans were forced to sit in the back of the bus. He was also obsessed with the image of Rosa Parks getting hand-printed after her arrest, but it got the point across.
By the time we got outside near Freedom Hall, home of the crypts, we had really gotten to know MLK and his life and my kids were humbled by the experience. Nearby is the Eternal Flame which symbolizes the continuing effort to realize Dr. King’s dream of the “Beloved Community,” which was his vision for a world of justice, peace and equality for all mankind.
Most of the park is self-guided, however, you must register to tour the Birth Home of Dr. King. We happened to be there on an extremely hot day in Atlanta, and my kids couldn’t do much else. If you’re interested in seeing The Birth Home of Dr. King, it may be visited only with a park ranger led tour, which is filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Register for the tour at the Information Desk, located in Freedom Hall, in person upon arrival to the park. The tour is strictly limited to 15 people per tour. Tours fill up fast on weekends and holidays so plan accordingly.