Atlanta Museums & Heritage

We spent our final day in America exploring the city of Atlanta. Due to the current Covid-19 situation, most of the museums and heritage places were closed. I cannot wait to return to Atlanta and visit the World of Coca Cola and The National Center for Civil and Human Rights! Also on the itinerary will be a Stranger Things tour so I can see the sites featured on the television show.

This time, since we only had one day, we decided to go on a general city tour that lasted six hours and covered so much ground. It provided us with an amazing overview of the city as well as its history. I really didn’t know a lot about Atlanta. It was just meant to be somewhere to fly into then almost immediately leave. I am so glad we had the chance to explore, because now I know when we return we need to spend a lot more time in the city than originally thought.

I’m going to take you through the stops on our tour that are museum/heritage related. The tour can be divided in half: sites related to the Civil Rights Movement and driving around the different neighbourhoods of Atlanta. This post will cover the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, Ponce City Market and the heritage-listed mansions of Buckhead.

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park

The first place we visited on the tour was the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park. There are ten museums/heritage places/memorials to explore in this park including the Visitor Center, DREAM Gallery, BEHOLD Monument, “I Have a Dream” World Peace Rose Garden, Birth Home Block, Historic Fire Station, Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, The King Center, Dr & Mrs King’s Tomb and Freedom Hall. We spent the majority of our time in the Visitor Center, Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and The King Center.

Visitor Center

This is a great place to start your visit to the National Park. Inside the Center is a museum which provides information on the life of Dr King and the Civil Rights Movement, as well as containing some incredible objects. The podium from the “I Have a Dream” speech is one of the first objects you see when you enter the exhibition space. On the opposite side of the museum is Dr King’s funeral wagon and the white flower cross that lay on top of his coffin.

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The rest of the space is divided into walled-off circular display areas that you can walk into and see photographs, thematic panels and relevant objects. I found this to be a really effective use of space and a very neat way of presenting the information. The displays follow Dr King’s life chronologically, starting with some context surrounding the Civil Rights Movement. Right in the middle of the museum is an exhibit titled “Freedom Road” which consists of multiple statues of individuals representing those who marched for civil rights.

Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church

Located just across the road from the Visitor Center is the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr King became a co-pastor with his father in 1960. It is also where his funeral was held in 1968. In 2001, the Church underwent two phases of restoration thanks to a Save America’s Treasures Grant. Phase 1 included updating and installing electricity, heating, air conditioning and fire suppression. There was also major repair work completed on the exterior of the Church including restoring the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church sign. Phase 2 focused on restoring the sanctuary and fellowship hall to how it looked in the 1960s. Today, you can visit the Church and hear Dr King’s sermons play on loop as you walk around.

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The King Center

Next to the Church is the King Center that contains a few exhibitions and the final resting place of Dr King and Coretta Scott King. One of the exhibitions divides the room in half to explore the life of Dr King on one side and Mrs King on the other. A highlight group of objects are the contents of Dr King’s suitcase from his stay at the Lorraine Hotel. The location where he would be assassinated. On the other side of the room, it was great to learn about Coretta Scott King and her dedication to continuing the action on civil rights after the death of Dr King.

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Their tombs are located outside the Center, resting on a concrete platform in a water feature you can see photographed below. Water flows down small steps and over the words from Dr King’s “I Have a Dream” speech – “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

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Ponce City Market

After spending the morning learning all about the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta, we drove to Ponce City Market for lunch. The Market opened in 2014 and was inscribed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.

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From 1926 to 1979, the building served as a retail store, warehouse and regional office for Sears, Roebuck and Co. We had seen a similar building in Chicago and heard stories of how, in the warehouse, staff would wear roller skates to collect items for orders. This is back when you could purchase items from catalogues.

From 1979 to 2010 the building served as City Hall East. It then closed until 2014 when the Market and private residences opened. There are many food and retail options inside with a mini golf course on the roof. I love seeing heritage re-purposed in this way. In 2014, it was labelled one of the 25 most ‘cool’ new tourist attractions in the world. An amazing way to adapt the use of the heritage building to give the place new life.

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Buckhead

At the end of the day, we drove around the suburb of Buckhead. Here you can see some of the most ornate and stereotypically southern mansions in Atlanta. The suburb has its own Heritage Society dedicated to historic preservation.

Quite a few of the mansions in the suburb are heritage listed. If you are looking for more information, click here to see an overview of all the historic residences. I’m going to take you on a visual journey of just a handful of the mansions we saw.

This is also where I’ll end my post on Atlanta. Like I said at the beginning, I cannot wait to return and explore more of the city.

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Author: Rebecca Lush

Curator, Integrated Pathology Learning Centre.

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