7 Things to Know About Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park

2/22/2019

With a vision that changed the world and a voice that echoes through time, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the most influential people in American history. While not the beginning or the end of the global civil rights movement, Dr. King represents an important chapter in our story as a people struggling for freedom and equality for all. 

One of the best places to learn about Dr. King is Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta, Georgia. Walking in his footsteps and connecting with him as a leader and a human being helps preserve his legacy and keep his dream alive.

Find out more about Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park below.

Historic black and white photo of Dr. King speaking into several microphones on a podium with a white columned building behind him.
Dr. King speaking at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. Photo from the National Archives.

It’s more than just one place

At Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park, visitors will find the places where Dr. King was born, lived, worked and worshipped. The park consists of dozens of historic buildings -- most of them built between 1890 and 1920 -- spread over 38 acres near downtown Atlanta. Many of these homes and institutions were a part of Dr. King’s early and adult years. The National Park Service Visitor Center is where most people begin their visit. There are several excellent exhibits on Dr. King and the civil rights movement.

An African American woman and little girl stand in front of a wall painted with a mural showing civil rights leaders marching.
Visitors admire a mural at Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park. Photo by Liana Mori (www.sharetheexperience.org).

The nearby house at 501 Auburn Avenue is where Dr. King was born on January 15, 1929 and where he lived until the age of 12. The house has been restored and furnished to look as it did during Dr. King’s boyhood. As you walk through the rooms, it’s easy to imagine young Martin playing with his siblings, learning piano from his mother and sitting at the dinner table as his father discussed important issues of the day.

A two story house with yellow wooden walls and brown trim with a small grass front yard.
The house where Dr. King was born and raised. Photo by National Park Service.

Ebenezer Baptist Church is where Dr. King delivered many of his most powerful sermons. He served as co-pastor of the church with his father from 1960-1968. Inside its stately brick walls, the community worshipped, movement leaders strategized and influential people from across the country gathered to hear Dr. King’s message. Today, visitors can settle in to a worn pew and listen to recordings of Dr. King’s speeches. It is a very moving and powerful experience.

A blue metal sign reading "Ebenezer Baptist Church" is attached to the brick wall of a church.
Sign on the front of Ebenezer Baptist Church. Photo by Tami Heilemann, Interior.

Thanks to a recent donation, the park can now claim another outstanding resource. The residence at 234 Sunset Avenue reveals another important chapter of Dr. King’s life. Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, moved into their “Life Home” on their return to Atlanta from Montgomery. Following Dr. King’s assassination, Mrs. King raised their four children (Bernice, Yolanda, Michael and Dexter) and created the The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (King Center) in this home. Though currently not open to the public, the National Park Service is hard at work developing plans to open this site and  teach visitors more about Dr. King’s adult and family life.

You can explore the neighborhood

Dr. King was born and raised in an Atlanta neighborhood along Auburn Avenue. Known locally as “Sweet Auburn,” it was a part of the bustling city where African Americans forged strong community bonds. Black-owned businesses thrived and black churches were places of joy and expression. Through the success of its residents, “Sweet Auburn” proved to young Martin that African Americans could achieve economic and cultural significance even in the face of legal segregation. 

The National Park Service has restored many of the neighboring buildings to reflect their appearances in the 1930s and 1940s -- the period of time when Dr. King grew up there. Visitors today can step into that era and imagine themselves walking with the residents, hearing the noise of this lively neighborhood and experiencing what life was like in those tumultuous times.

A red brick fire house has large doors on its front.
Built in 1892, Fire Station #6 was the first integrated and longest active fire station in the city. Located on the birth home block, the fire station was frequented by young Martin as he was growing up. Photo by National Park Service.

There’s a statue honoring one of Dr. King’s inspirations

Mohandas K. Gandhi was an important spiritual and political leader in the Indian Independence Movement. Teaching a philosophy of respect and nonviolence, Gandhi helped his nation throw off the chains of colonial oppression and forge a better future for his people. His words and tactics profoundly influenced many future leaders, including Dr. King.

"Gandhi was inevitable. If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

A statue of Gandhi - a short, bald man wearing glasses and carrying a walking stick.
The Gandhi statue. Photo by Tami Heilemann, Interior.

Other famous civil rights figures are celebrated here

Honoring dozens of people who have dedicated their lives to equality, justice and nonviolence, the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame recognizes heroes throughout history. Coming from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, these men and women took part in the struggle that defined Dr. King and many others. It’s a great place to learn about the people who shaped our history. Who knows? Maybe you can be remembered here one day, too. 

Plaques of footprints are set into a concrete walkway running straight through a park filled with bushes and trees.
The International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. Photo by National Park Service.

Visitors can stop and smell the roses

When you visit Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park, be sure to take a moment to stroll through or sit in the "I Have a Dream" World Peace Rose Garden. The garden is an artistic interpretation of Dr. King’s life and ideals of peace through nonviolence. Its starburst design brings attention to the brilliance of Dr. King’s ideals using the national flower of the United States, the rose. The rose garden borders the Peace Plaza, in front of the Visitor Center. It has 185 roses in a variety of colors and fragrances.

An African American man, woman and little girl pose in front of a large rose garden.
Visitors enjoying the rose garden. Photo by National Park Service.

Dr. King’s final resting place is here

The King Center and Tomb are located across Auburn Avenue from the National Park Service Visitor Center. Coretta Scott King chose this location for her husband’s tomb between his birth home and his spiritual home, Ebenezer Baptist Church. More than half a million people a year pause by this dignified gravesite to honor Dr. King’s memory. The King Center is an independent nonprofit organization operated by the King family, and is the National Park Service’s principal partner on site.

The large gray stone tomb of Dr. and Mrs King stands on a circular platform surrounded by a shallow pool of water.
The gravesite of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. Photo by Tami Heilemann, Interior.

What started here has spread far and wide

Dr. King’s influence reached far beyond his charming Atlanta neighborhood. In many locations, people have preserved places that are associated with this incredible man. Several of these sites are managed by the National Park Service. The Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama commemorates the historic 1965 march led by Dr. King and other leaders after the tragic events surrounding “Bloody Sunday.” Dr. King’s most famous speech, “I Have A Dream,” was given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., a short walk from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall. These places -- and many others -- are wonderful outdoor classrooms and tributes to all who took part in the Civil Rights Movement.

A tall tan stone statue of Dr. King with a cloudy sky above it.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jim Evangelista (www.sharetheexperience.org).

 

Was this page helpful?