Published: Jan/Feb 2004

Above: Visit the home where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born and raised in Atlanta, Ga. (NPS photo)

Below: A replica of a bushman’s hut at the Chattanooga African-American Museum. (museum photo)

MLK home in Montgomery now open to visitors

Travelers interested in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may now get another perspective of his life as a pastor and quiet family man at the recently open parsonage to the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.

Restored to look the way it did when King and his family lived there from September 1954 to February 1960, the home is open for tours and compliments a visit to the church once served by King, now called the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.

The king home is at 315 S. Jackson St. For admission and tour hours, call (334) 269-5327.

The home joins a growing list of black heritage sites in Montgomery, including the Civil Rights Memorial that honors people slain during the civil rights moment, and the Rosa Parks Library and Museum housed in the Troy State University Montgomery library building.

Three Alabama cities -- Selma, Montgomery and Tuskegee -- comprise the Black Heritage Trail.

Black History Month
Historic drive trip of the South will move you

February marks Black History Month, a time to remember the many contributions made by blacks to America throughout its history.

In the Southeast, visitors can learn more about the rich, turbulent history of blacks with a compact three-state AAA Drive Trip that includes stops at three institutions: Atlanta’s Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the Chattanooga African-American Museum. Each is within three hours of the other and can easily be visited in a weekend for a captivating, moving exploration of African-American history.

The King Center

From 1955 to 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was primary spokesman and leader of the civil rights movement. Each year, more than 650,000 people visit The King Center located at the Martin Luther King National Historic Site, 450 Auburn Ave. (404-331-5190) in the historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood. The site encompasses the Victorian-style home where King was born and raised and Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he was baptized, delivered his first sermon, was co-pastor with his father, and where his funeral was held in 1968.

Built in 1895 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the tour of the King Birth Home is free and lasts 30 minutes. Most homes on the block were purchased and restored to their 1930s appearance by the National Park Service, which maintains the site. The homes are leased as private residences.

The tour of the King home is the most popular and because visitation is limited to help preserve the landmark, a long wait is often required. Your best bet is to visit early in the day, particularly on a weekday or Sunday morning. Upon arriving, head to the visitor center to sign up for the tour. Once registered, visit the rest of the site while waiting for the tour of King’s home.

Other exhibits at the site include “Children of Courage” about the children of the civil rights movement; “Courage to Lead,” which follows the parallel paths of King and the civil rights movement; and an examination of the Jim Crow laws.

Visitors can also pay respects to King at his tomb, experience the “I Have a Dream” World Peace Rose Garden and visit Freedom Hall and its exhibits of personal artifacts of King, his widow, Coretta Scott King, and Mahatma Gandi, whose nonviolent philosophy of passive resistance greatly influenced the civil rights leader.

Civil Rights Institute

About 140 miles west on Interstate 20 is Birmingham, Ala., the center of some of the worst racial strife the United States ever witnessed. Things have dramatically changed since those chaotic days of the 1960s. Today, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, 520 16th St. North (1-866-328-9696) tells Birmingham’s story and its roll in the civil rights movement.

Established in 1993, the institute’s excellent multimedia exhibits run visitors through a gamut of emotions. The tour begins with a 12-minute film about Birmingham’s history from its 1871 origins through the 1920s. Visitors then enter the Barriers Gallery, where they experience what everyday life was like for blacks in Birmingham during the post-war era.

The Movement Gallery examines the civil rights movement and includes “Give Us the Vote,” a 12-screen video wall that studies efforts to gain voting rights from slavery to the downfall of Jim Crow laws. One of the most inspiring moments on tour involves a replica of the Birmingham jail cell where Martin Luther King Jr. was kept and wrote “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” The bars are from the acctual cell and King is heard reading the letter.

Finally, through interactive video, exhibits and computer programs, the Human Rights Gallery provides an international scope to human rights, the numerous violations that occur daily and how each person can make a difference.

Chattanooga’s Empress
of the Blues

About 90 miles north of Birmingham up Interstate 65 is Chattanooga, Tenn. Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Chattanooga is a great getaway for a weekend trip. It is home to what is billed as the world’s largest freshwater aquarium, has a classic-style minor leage ballpark on the Tennessee River, plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities and numerous Civil War sites. Overall, Chattanooga is a fun, friendly, picturesque city that’s easy to navigate, especially on foot.

The Chattanooga African-American Museum, 200 E. M.L. King Blvd., (423-266-8658) and its unique exhibits are not to be missed.

Located in a renovated downtown warehouse, the museum includes exhibits such as an authentic African dwelling, an Ethiopian temple and tools and other artifacts depicting the life, work, art and worship of Africans before they came to America. Other exhibits highlight blacks involved with the Civil War, successful athletes and performers and a moving exhibit focusing on the civil rights movement.

Half of the museum is also dedicated to the memorabilia and music of Chattanooga’s own Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith. The legendary singer lived in a one-room shack on the outskirts of downtown before her combination of blues and jazz made her a star–and one of the most important women in American music. The museums 264-seat Bessie Smith Performance Hall hosts prominent blues acts in a setting similar to small clubs Smith performed at in the 1920s and ‘30s.

Whether you choose to visit one of the museums or can fit all three into your schedule, expect to learn many eye-opening facts and lesser-known points of American history. In addition to a unique learning experience, you’ll also enjoy a leisurely, scenic highway drive of north Georgia, north Alabama and southeastern Tennessee.

For more driving excursions, you’ll find 50 more pre-planned AAA Drive Trips throughout North America, each with a map, detailed directions, time between trip legs, and lodging and attraction information.

For driving directions, AAA’s Internet TripTik®/Traveler delivers on-demand, step-by-step instructions, and accompanying road map, plus in-depth info on area lodging, restaurants, points of interest, and events.

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