One and a half miles east of Centennial Park, Auburn Avenue stands as a monument to Atlanta’s black history. During its heyday in the 1920s, “Sweet Auburn” was a prosperous, progressive area of black-owned businesses and jazz clubs, but it went into a decline with the Depression from which it has never truly recovered. Several blocks have been designated as the Martin Luther King, Jr National Historic Site, in honour of Auburn’s most cherished native son. This short stretch of road is the most visited attraction in all Georgia and it’s a moving experience to watch the crowds of school kids waiting in turn to take photographs. Head first for the park service’s visitor centre where an exhibition covers King’s life and campaigns. If you’re looking for a broader account of the civil rights years, the museum in Memphis is much more comprehensive, but this provides a powerful summary, culminating with the mule-drawn wagon used in King’s funeral procession in Atlanta on April 9, 1968.
You should check in at the visitor centre for a free tour of King’s Birth Home, a short walk east. As only fifteen people can visit at a time and school groups often visit en masse, you may have to settle for a “virtual tour”, using the computers at the visitor centre. The house itself is a fourteen-room Queen Anne-style shotgun, restored to its prosperous 1930s appearance. Home to King until he was 12 (he was born in an upstairs bedroom), it remained in his family until 1971.