Sunday, February 26, 2012

Martin Luther King Memorial

Friday evening Linda and I watched the show on NBC with Blair Underwood. That same night I read the first third of The Help. Today, we spent most of the day at the Martin Luther King Memorial in Atlanta. Tomorrow we leave for South Africa. I am sensing a pattern here. 

The new Ebenezer Baptist Sanctuary
Blair Underwood’s story was most interesting as he learned some things that were surprising. I knew that some African-Americans owned slaves in the South, and knew that one of the largest plantation owners was an African-American. What I did not know was that slaves freed in Virginia after about  1807 had to leave the state or they would be resold into slavery. The practical effect of this was that many of the African-Americans in Virginia who owned slaves actually owned family members that they had purchased so they could remain in Virginia. An interesting unintended consequence. 

One of Six Circular Displays
Selma to Montgomery
 The Memorial is an effective reminder of Martin Luther King, Jr., his life and his legacy. It is built in the neighborhood of Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin grew up and includes a mural of his life along with a statue of Mahatma Gandhi and a Walk of Heroes.

The inside is small enough to be done in a couple of hours. The main exhibit consists of six circular displays chronicling his life and a life-size mockup of the March to Selma that allows visitors to join in. Many families took advantage of this to have their pictures taken as part of the March. Another building has rooms dedicated to Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King. Across the street is his tomb. 
Model of the Memorial to be in Washington, DC
Mahatma Gandhi and the Walk of Heroes
The neighborhood included both an upscale Middle Class section and a number of shotgun duplexes. Shotgun houses were probably called that because the central hallway led from the front door to the back. That meant one could shoot a gun through the open doors without hitting the house. 

King's Boyhood Home
Shotgun Duplexes in the Neighborhood
Tomb and Reflecting Pool

 As we walked through the exhibit, I was impressed by the number of young families there with us. I wish every American could visit this along with the museums in Birmingham and Montgomery I was able to visit a few years ago. We can’t be reminded of these events and their legacy too often as we continue to be bedeviled by problems or prejudice – not all of which are race-related.

Sanctuary - Ebenezer Baptist Church
Sanctuary - Ebenezer Baptist Church
 I was also somewhat surprised by how quiet the area is. We were there on a Saturday and there were lots of people, but the expanse spread us out enough that we did not feel crowded. The somberness of the story probably helped. 

I am convinced that any trip to Atlanta should include this visit, even after the city completes the new Civil Rights Museum in Centennial Park on the other side of town.

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