43 Auburn Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30303, USA
Once again, welcome to Historic America & UCPlaces’ audio walking tour of Atlanta’s Historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood. We’re glad you could join us! I’m Aaron, your guide (but I also respond to professional history nerd). This is the part of the tour where I fit in my shameless plug for our websites (www.historicamerica.org & www.ucplaces.com) and invite you to use #historicamericatours on social media while traveling alongside us today. You’re now standing at the intersection of Auburn Avenue & Peachtree Center Ave. Following your on screen navigation, walk east down Auburn Avenue on the right hand side of the street. As you walk, I'll talk … and the easiest part is that today’s tour is a straight shot moving east down Auburn - so if you can walk a straight line, you won’t get lost. Each block of our journey holds a new discovery in store. Throughout the late 19th & 20th centuries, Auburn Avenue developed as a vibrant hub of African American entertainment, business, and spirituality in the heart of Atlanta. In the bygone era of legalized discrimination, the city was cordoned off by lines of color and Blacks from across the south came to Auburn Avenue - some drawn by shared dreams and others pushed by restrictive segregation laws. The community they built became a cradle of Black opportunity and achievement, impacting not only the American South, but the entire nation. Eventually dubbed “Sweet Auburn” by those who loved her best, a 1956 issue of Fortune magazine declared the neighborhood to be, “...the richest Negro street in the world.” Let’s find out why. The development of Auburn Avenue can be traced back to the reconstruction era, when formerly enslaved people began purchasing land in the area just east of Atlanta’s central business district along what was then called Wheat Street. White neighbors, concerned by the changing landscape, petitioned to have the street name changed to Auburn Avenue as it had a more cosmopolitan sound. As educational and business opportunities expanded for Blacks in Atlanta, Auburn soon became a hub for the Black middle class. Eventually, Auburn’s unofficial “mayor” John Wesley Dobbs declared that Auburn offered residents the keys to Black liberation in the form of three B's - bucks, ballots, and books. At our next stop, we’ll learn about the books.
30 Courtland St NE, Atlanta, GA 30303, USA
As you reach the intersection of Auburn Ave. & Courtland Street our sightseeing experience begins. Pause your walk to get oriented. Diagonally to your left, notice the Georgia State University Welcome Center. Here you’ll find GSU’s admissions office and the meeting point for GSU’s downtown campus tours. Ahead to your right you’ll find the red brick and granite exterior of the Auburn Avenue Research Library. This historic library marks the beginning of the Sweet Auburn historic district. Way back in 1921 it was also the first public library branch for African Americans in the city of Atlanta, and ultimately became the first public library in all of the Southeast United States to offer a specialized focus on the study & research of African American history & culture. Inside you’ll find more than 600 manuscript collections and over 20,000 books in addition to artifacts, audio recordings, oral histories, periodicals, a quarter-of-a-million photographs and countless other items all concerned with the African American experience. Keep walking down Auburn and I’ll tell you more. The original 1921 branch has long since closed. Opened in 1994 and expanded in 2016, the new building you see today boasts 50,000 square feet of space over three levels dedicated to community programming, reference, research and archival space. Did I also mention the library is an art gallery boasting over 800 creations by Black artists? As you continue down the street, notice the prominent piece near the library’s north entrance by artist Radcliffe Bailey - a two tiered sculpture of rusted steel silhouettes representing the African diaspora. Look closely to find (among other items) a saxophone, a sailing ship, tribal masks and a ladder which turns into a DNA strand. If you’d like to explore the library, feel free to pause the tour and get your learn on. Otherwise, we continue along Auburn. Separated from the library by a small parking lot, the next site (upcoming on your right) is the oldest Black History Museum in Atlanta - the APEX Museum. The name APEX is an acronym for African American Panoramic eXperience, because the museum aims to provide visitors with a complete view of African American history and culture. APEX was founded in 1978 by Black filmmaker Dan Moore Senior and the building itself is over 100 years old - the work of African American masons. You’ll notice the red brick walls, white fronting and exterior alleyway entrance overhung with wrought iron fencing which spells out APEX. If you choose to enter APEX and explore the exhibits, make sure to look for the recreated druggist storefront of the first Black registered pharmacist in Georgia - Moses Amos. And although Moses is no longer around to fill your medical prescriptions, APEX will fill your head with knowledge as you watch a short film on the story of Auburn Avenue inside the museum’s Trolley Theater. On the opposite side of the street from the APEX museum, locate the classical building of tan & white, with one portion closer to the roadside than the other. This is the Atlanta Life Insurance Company Building. Though the building itself dates from the 1920s, Atlanta Life was founded in 1905 by pioneering entrepreneur Alonzo Herndon, a man born into slavery who eventually became Atlanta’s first black millionaire. With a mere $11 in his pocket and only a year’s worth of schooling, Herndon left sharecropping at twenty-years-old, to embark on a journey that led to ownership of an Atlanta barbershop chain, transitioned into real estate investment, and culminated in the creation of a life insurance empire formerly headquartered here. Throughout the American south, the name Herndon became synonymous with business success. A local newspaper editor once wrote, "When people buy a policy in Atlanta Life they are buying Alonzo Herndon." Herndon’s company still exists today and is currently headquartered on nearby Peachtree Street. By the way, did you hear about the salesman who tried selling insurance to a turtle? The turtle told the salesman, "No, I don't want to buy a policy. I'm already covered". Moving on. Across the street from Atlanta Life, locate the red brick structure decorated with white diamonds. As the signage over the main doorway still attests, this was once the home of the Atlanta Daily World - the city’s oldest Black newspaper. Founded by 26-year-old Morehouse graduate William Alexander Scott, and eventually taken over by his brother Cornelius, the publication was the first successful African American daily newspaper in the country and the first paper to send an assigned correspondent to the White House - Harry Alpin - who himself became the first Black person to cover the White House in February of 1944. The paper still exists but relocated in 2008 after the old headquarters building (where you now stand) was damaged by a tornado. Continue onto the next block and I’ll meet you there!
11 Piedmont Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30305, USA
Continue on Auburn Ave through the intersection with Piedmont Avenue. Coming up on your left, just beyond the bus top, look for the two story building with signage at the very top which reads “Royal Peacock” in red lettering. Welcome to the hottest place in town. Known as the Top Hat Club during the 1930s, this legendary Atlanta performance venue once showcased big band headliners like Cab Calloway & Louis Armstrong. After World War II, the club was purchased by retired circus performer Carrie Cunningham, who rechristened it the “Royal Peacock” and styled the interior with a unique blend of Egyptian revival & peacock decor. Wearing her signature plumage of mink coats, expensive jewelry and elegant dresses, Cunningham created a well known floor show centered around the “Peacock Dancers” and was the prominent girlboss of Atlanta’s hottest live music club. In the 1950s, the Peacock’s stage played host to dozens of young Black artists cutting their teeth on the so called ‘Chitlin’ Circuit’; soon-to-be household names such as James Brown, Sam Cooke, Gladys Knight, Marvin Gaye, Little Richard, Jackie Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Ike & Tina Turner, The Temptations and dozens more all performed here. It was inside the Peacock where Ray Charles was first noticed by record promoters and also where Muhammed Ali (then Cassius Clay) hung out with friends before his career-launching bout with Sonny Liston. Additionally, owner Carrie Cunningham was friends with Martin Luther King Jr, and her club was a frequent after hours spot for King and the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to adjourn to at the end of the workday. Eventually sold off, the club fell on hard times during the disco era, but has since reopened with great success as one of Atlanta’s best loved locations for live Reggae & HipHop music. Just beyond the Peacock you’ll notice a colorful mural by artist Charmaine Minniefield. It’s dedicated to the memory of Ella Baker, a Civil Rights icon best known for her central role in the creation of both the SCLC (the Southern Chrisitan Leadership Conference) & SNCC (the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee). Between them, these two organizations formed the heart of the national Civil Rights movement during the 1950s & 60s Incredibly, Ella Baker served as the first (and at one time only) staff member of the SCLC and later (although a grown woman and not a student herself), became known as the “Godmother” of SNCC, serving as a mentor to young activists such as Julian Bond, Stokely Carmichael and Bernice Johnson Reagon. Baker was a passionate believer in grassroots activism who thought charismatic leadership less important than people power in achieving societal change. She once said, “...strong people don't need strong leaders,” and put this philosophy into personal practice by helping to organize the student led Freedom Rides. Continue on Auburn Avenue and head toward the prominent steeple of Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church at the end of the block on your left. Big Bethel is an Atlanta landmark and the oldest Black congregation in Sweet Auburn - dating all the way back to 1847. The church building is known affectionately as Sweet Auburn’s City Hall and has been a community hub from the 19th century until the present day. President William Howard Taft spoke from the pulpit in 1911 followed decades later by Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and South African President Nelson Mandela in 1990. In 1879, the Gate City Colored School, the first public school for African Americans in the city, was founded in the basement of Big Bethel and in 1881, Morris Brown College, the only college in Georgia started solely by African Americans, held classes in the church basement before moving to its first campus. What you see today is the third church building as the previous structure was destroyed by fire in the 1920s. The reconstructed Bethel is most readily identifiable by the impressive steeple adorned by a lighted cross and lit by the words “Jesus Saves” visible on the steeples’ eastern face - making it all the easier to find your way home on even the darkest of nights. Take a moment to admire the church as you reach the end of the block. I’ll meet you as you continue along Auburn Ave.
225 Auburn Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30303, USA
Just past the intersection of Auburn Ave & Jesse Hill Drive, turn around for a moment and take in the huge mural honoring the late Congressman John Lewis on the southwest corner of the intersection. Like Ella Baker, Lewis was a driving force within the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. As a young twenty-something, Lewis was also a prominent speaker alongside Martin Luther King Junior at 1963’s famed “March for Jobs and Freedom“ in Washington, DC. He went on to suffer a fractured skull while leading another march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the pivotal “Bloody Sunday” event, and was eventually elected to Congress from Georgia’s 5th District in 1986 - a position he held until his death in 2020. Dedicated in 2012, the mural is the work of artist Sean Schwab who succeeded in capturing the larger-than-life personality of his subject - even though Lewis only stood 5 foot 6 inches tall in person. The diminutive Lewis was present at the mural’s dedication and actually completed the massive artwork himself when he painted the dot over the letter “i” in his signature. He spoke in front of the mural saying, “Growing up in a little town in southeast Alabama, I never would have dreamed that there would be a mural of me on the side of a building in Atlanta that is so big it could be seen from the highway.” To the left of the Lewis Mural, you’ll also notice a six story red brick building topped with a series of gabled windows. This is the Butler Street YMCA - a building once known as Atlanta’s “black city hall” and Sweet Auburn’s community center. Designed by notable African American architect Alexander Hamilton and unveiled in 1920, the YMCA provided locals a host of amenities including a cafe, swimming pool, gymnasium, 48 dormitories, 7 classrooms, running track, game room and over 10,000 square feet of total space. Most importantly, it was the foundation upon which the Black youth of Atlanta and young African American professionals built the surrounding community - not to mention the fact that the Y’s local basketball team was so good, their schedule included college opponents like Morehouse, Tuskegee, and Clark. The hoop dreams of basketball legend and Hall-of-Famer Walt Frazier began on the Y’s hard court. Let’s turn around now and continue moving along Auburn Avenue. On your left hand side, the entire block is covered by the footprint of the Odd Fellows Building. The Odd Fellows are a Black fraternal organization whose district headquarters were once located inside. The building is divided into two sections - the low lying, two story annex and the six story tower. Their creation was the dream of Atlanta politician, newspaperman, and Odd Fellows organizer Benjamin Davis. He oversaw the construction of this complex with the intent of creating a multi use structure which catered to local Black businesses & organizations by providing them retail, professional and meeting space. Back in the early 1900s a visitor to the building could find The Gate City Drug Store, Curry-Hall Haberdasher, the offices of Dr. Shaw (Atlanta's first black optometrist), The Gate City Barber Shop, Sportsmans Smoke House and the House of Flowers to name a few. Notably, the 1300 seat Royal Theater - found in the annex - was the only movie theater in all of Atlanta where Black audiences were afforded seating on the main floor. The dedication of the building was such an important event inside the South’s Black business community that Booker T. Washington himself dedicated the building at a 1912 ceremony. My favorite part: They used to hold regular dance parties on top of the tower. Continue along Auburn Ave and walk through the downtown connector underpass. As you do, take time to explore the gorgeous mural depicting Sweet Auburn’s rich history which runs the length of the underpass. Don’t forget to look overhead for the bright street car signs listing the neighborhood's many landmark buildings. I’ll see you on the other side!
288 Auburn Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30303, USA
As you emerge from the underpass and continue on Auburn Ave, notice the two pieces of public art on either side of the roadway. Locate the second story mural featuring two men on the building to your left front. The fellow on the left is John Wesley Dobbs - a prominent community leader and politician who was known as the unofficial “mayor” of Sweet Auburn. At the height of his influence during the WWII era, Dobbs founded both the Atlanta Civic & Political League and the Atlanta Negro Voters League. He successfully mobilized the political power of the city’s Black community by registering tens-of-thousands of first time Black voters. His efforts stood in direct opposition to the dominant, white political structure which was busily erecting barriers between Blacks and the ballot. Within his lifetime, Dobbs’ tireless work resulted in the integration of the city’s police force & school system. He died at 79 years old in 1960 - the very same week Atlanta’s schools were desegregated. Beside Dobbs is his grandson - Maynard Jackson Junior - the man who became Atlanta’s first black mayor in 1973 and (in so doing) also became the first black mayor of any major southern city. He served a total of three terms and is perhaps best remembered for helping Atlanta to secure the 1996 Olympic Games before his passing in the early 2000s. Now look to your right into John Wesley Dobbs Plaza. You’ll notice a bronze sculpture of Dobbs’ face prominently positioned in the center. The work of artist Ralph Helmick, Dobb’s bronze visage is hollowed out in order to resemble a traditional African face mask. The ingenious sculpture is interactive, providing you the ability to climb inside and see Auburn Avenue through Dobb’s own eyes. You’re welcome to pause the narration and take a peek yourself! Let’s continue down Auburn Avenue. As you walk, I want to tell you more about the historic building upcoming. Have you heard of Madame C.J. Walker, the first black, female, self-made millionaire in United States’ history? She owned a chain of beauty shops specializing in haircare and cosmetic products for African American women. How about the Southern Christian Leadership Conference - the place where Ella Baker worked and helped found under the leadership & guidance of Martin Luther King Junior? That organization revolutionized the process of non-violent social protest the world over. Perhaps you’ve heard WERD (also known as W - E - R - D) the nation’s first African American-owned and directed radio station, which began broadcasting here in Atlanta back in 1948. This was home to the south’s favorite radio DJ - “Jockey” Jack Gibson. Would you believe all of these institutions were housed in the SAME place? Locate the last building on the left hand side of the block with signage outfront which reads, “Prince Hall - Free & Accepted Masons”. You’ve found the spot.
341 Auburn Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30312, USA
344 Auburn Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30312, USA
This is Prince Hall Masonic Temple - a building complex created over 80 years ago through the work of John Wesley Dobbs. In addition to housing a predominantly African American branch of the North American Freemasons, the building complex was also home to one of the last CJ Walker Beauty salons, the central office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the WERD radio studio. Woah - if the history were any thicker here, you could bottle and sell it, just like Madame CJ used to do. As a matter of fact, if you want to learn more about her, you can go around the corner and find the Madame Museum inside her old salon location. Look for her picture outfront! There are so many stories to tell. My personal favorite has to do with the space between upstairs & downstairs. You see, the WERD radio studio was right above the SCLC headquarters, and whenever Martin Luther King Junior wanted to make a radio announcement, all he had to do was tap the ceiling with a broom handle to get the DJ’s attention. According to “Jockey” Jack Gibson, this prompted the lowering of a microphone from the recording studio window into King’s offices below. Talk about convenience. You’re welcome to linger longer if you like. Otherwise, I’ll catch up with you on the next block.
364 Auburn Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30312, USA
On your right is Wheat Street Baptist Church - a place where the congregation says, “the doors swing back on welcome hinges”. This church was founded in 1869 and moved several times, eventually relocating here in the late 1800s when Auburn Avenue used to be named Wheat Street. Ties to community history run deep inside the building. The Butler Street YMCA was formed in the church basement in 1894 and the church was a hotbed of social justice work throughout Sweet Auburn’s history. The original church building was lost in the Great Atlanta Fire of 1917 - but if I can take you back in time for a moment - I’d like you to imagine a powerful scene which took place in the old sanctuary in the years immediately following the Civil War. In the postwar era, Atlanta’s black female population - many of them formerly enslaved people - were largely employed as laundresses. It was hard, wearying work. The industrial boom in manufactured cloth meant that there were more clothes than ever before, and white women with any disposable income first put their cash toward hiring laundresses. These washerwomen worked out of the home and made their own soap from lye. Sawed off beer barrels served as hand wash tubs. Garments were starched with wheat bran extract and hung all over the house to dry and eventually smooth with heavy irons. Throughout the week, laundresses would haul bucket loads of water from wells, pumps or hydrants in an endless cycle boiling and rinsing clothes. Work began on Monday and continued until weekend deliveries were made. And for all this effort, laundresses made no more than $4 - $8 per month. The black laundresses of Atlanta organized to demand a uniform wage by founding the so-called, “Washing Society” in 1881. By canvassing the black church community for support, their number grew quickly, from just 20 members to over 3,000 members in 3 weeks. Eventually, the Washing Society called for a strike unless their membership received $1 per every 12 pounds of laundry cleaned, along with greater work autonomy. City authorities pushed back by arresting ring leaders and imposing steep fines. Undeterred, the laundresses were soon joined in their crusade by hotel workers, maids, nurses, and cooks from across the city. The pivotal moment came when 500 Washing Society women met here inside the old sanctuary of Wheat Street Baptist church in order to craft an ultimatum to Atlanta’s Mayor - James English. The women would extend the strike if their demands were not met. In response to this ultimatum issued from Wheat Street Baptist, the city backed down. The washerwomen saw their pay increase and received greater work autonomy in exchange for a license fee. More importantly, the powerful Atlanta establishment came to acknowledge the fact that these laundresses were no longer enslaved, but instead proud women who played a central role in the Southern economy. Their voices would be heard - and they spoke as one from inside this very church. Let’s continue our walk down Auburn Ave until you cross over Jackson Street. I’ll meet you at the corner.
101 Jackson St NE, Atlanta, GA 30312, USA
Pause here while I tell you all about this stretch of Auburn Avenue. You’re now entering Martin Luther King Junior National Historical Park. Truthfully, you could spend hours exploring this place and I wouldn’t be mad if you did - but we’ve only got a few more stops. My suggestion … once our tour ends, double back and find the National Park Service Visitor Center (which I’ll point out to you in a moment). From there you can get oriented and learn what the park has to offer - from the many exhibits, to the Civil Rights Walk of Fame, to the Memorial Rose Garden and much more. As our Sweet Auburn Tour continues, I’d like to show you the park’s spiritual center - Ebenezer Baptist Church - the brick building with twin steeples found on the southeast corner of the intersection. Position yourself for a good view. The name Ebenezer means “stone of help,” and finds its origin in the Hebrew Bible after the Prophet Samuel named a large stone “Ebenezer” to remind the Israelites of God’s help in winning a great battle against the Philistine army. Similarly, Ebenezer Baptist Church stands as a rock upon which a vibrant spiritual community is planted. Their stated purpose is toward, “individual growth and social transformation through living in the message and carrying out the mission of Jesus Christ”. As the wider story of America’s Black experience is interwoven with the Christian church, the story of Ebenezer Baptist is interwoven with that of the King Family. Initially founded during the Reconstruction Era, Ebenzer was soon after pastored by Martin Luther King’s maternal grandfather, Rev. Adam Daniels Williams, and relocated to this Auburn Avenue location in 1914. Next in line came Martin Luther King Senior (known as “Daddy King”) who led the church as pastor for over 40 years beginning in 1931. In 1960, Martin Luther King Junior assumed a co-pastor position at Ebenezer alongside his father. The church consequently became a nexus of Civil Rights activity during the movement’s most storied era. It would ever after be known as “America’s Freedom Church”. More recently, Sen. Raphael Warnock, the church’s fifth senior pastor, became the first Black man elected to the United States Senate from the state of Georgia. In 1999, Sunday worship services moved from the Auburn Avenue sanctuary building (which you’re looking at now) to a new 1,600 seat Horizon Sanctuary location. It can be found on the direct opposite side of Auburn Avenue and is identifiable by its distinctive roof. The old church stands today as a historic site after being renovated by the National Park Service in 2001. Inside, the Heritage Sanctuary is typically open for tours Monday through Saturday 9 am to 5 pm and Sundays 1 to 5 pm. Stories abound within its walls. It was here that Martin Luther King Junior was baptized as a child and where he grew up listening to his father sermonize while his mother played the organ on Sundays. Fittingly, it is also where King’s funeral services were held in 1968 and where the life of John Lewis was celebrated in 2020. From Ebenezer’s pulpit, King preached some of his most famous messages, connecting the practice of civil disobedience with Biblical teaching. In 1967, he told his congregation, There comes a time when a moral man cannot obey a law which his conscience tells him is unjust … Great moments have often come forth because there were those individuals, in every age and every generation, who were willing to say "I will be obedient to a higher law." In a later sermon, King unknowingly gave his own eulogy when he said, I'd like somebody to mention that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others … If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. Now I’d like to show you where Martin Luther King Junior rests in his final peace. Crossover to the opposite side of Auburn Avenue. Let’s keep walking east down Auburn.
407 Auburn Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30312, USA
As you move past Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, across the road on your left hand side you will see the Park Service Visitor Center. Keep this in mind as you may wish to circle back after our tour to explore the park in greater depth. To your right you’ll notice a low staircase leading up to an elevated plaza. Take these stairs. As you do, you’ll notice flag poles ahead and, to your left front, a reflecting pool centered around a large, marble sarcophagus. This is the grave of Martin Luther King Junior and his wife, Coretta Scott King. Let’s take a look. Meet me in front of the tomb.
449 Auburn Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30312, USA
As you draw parallel to King’s tomb, let’s get you oriented. You’ve now entered the grounds of the world famous King Center. Founded by Coretta Scott King upon her husband’s death, the Center is dedicated to educating the world about the life, legacy and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and its ongoing mission is empowering people to create a just, humane, equitable and peaceful world by applying Dr. King’s nonviolent philosophy and methodology. As face King’s tomb, notice the King Center headquarters building to your left. Once again, you’re encouraged to return later to explore the King Center Campus at the close of our tour. Here you’ll find a bookstore, gift shop, fascinating exhibits and a wealth of wonderful resources related to King’s story and ongoing impact. By now you should be facing toward the crypt of Dr. & Mrs. King. This was not his original burial place. After his assasination in 1968, King was initially interred at Atlanta’s Southview Cemetery. His remains were moved to the King Center campus in 1970. Following her passage in 2006, Coretta Scott King joined her husband. The original tomb was only built to accommodate one body, so prior to Mrs. King’s interment, a period of construction and enlargement took place here at the memorial site. This stately, expanded sarcophagus is made of Georgia marble - a nod to the couple’s southern roots. The grave itself is one of Atlanta’s most visited sites. Roughly half-a-million people come here every year to pay their respects. Now you’re one of them! Behind you stands an eternal flame symbolizing the continuing effort to realize Dr. King’s dream of the “Beloved Community,” which was his vision for a world of justice, peace and equality for all mankind. Feel free to take a few moments of reflection at this special place. When you’re ready to exit the plaza, continue along the walkway which borders the reflecting pool, keeping the pool to your right and King Center Headquarters to your left. Once you pass the headquarters building, bear to the left and head up the staircase to return to the roadway and continue walking along Auburn Ave.
6 Boulevard NE, Atlanta, GA 30312, USA
At the intersection of Auburn Ave & Boulevard you’ll notice a red brick firehouse on the southeast corner. This is Historic Fire Station No. 6. Built in 1894, this station served the Sweet Auburn community for nearly a century. The building remains the oldest, freestanding fire station in Atlanta and it was among the city’s first stations to hire Black firefighters following the integration of the fire department in 1963. The firehouse ceased activity in 1991 as its garage opening could no longer accommodate wider, more modern fire trucks. Today it stands as a museum chronicling the history of the Atlanta Fire Department and its desegregation. Inside you’ll find the original brass fire fighter’s pole, a 1927 American LaFrance fire engine and exhibit space. When you’re ready, let’s continue along Auburn Avenue to our final stop.
498 Auburn Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30312, USA
Our tour ends where Martin Luther King Junior’s story began - his birth home on your right. A two story, Queen Anne style frame house with tan paint and dark brown trim, you should be able to identify it by the exterior park signage and historical markers. Tours of the home are available on a first come, first serve basis. No advanced registration or phone reservations are accepted. In person tour signup is available inside the National Park Service Visitor Center - but be forewarned, space is limited so you need to arrive early in the day. In the meantime, I’m happy to tell you a few stories. Martin Luther King Junior was born at noontime inside this home on January 15, 1929. He would spend the first 12 years of his life here. The home was purchased in 1909 by Rev. Adam Daniel Williams - you’ll remember him as Ebenezer’s former pastor and Martin’s grandfather. Reverend Williams raised his own family here and died of a heart attack inside the home in 1931. The home passed to his daughter Christine and her husband Martin Luther King Senior (Daddy King). The couple’s three children were born inside; Christine, Michael Jr. (later known as Martin Luther King, Jr.), and Alfred Daniel. The home stayed in the King family and eventually transitioned into a rental property for them. After Dr. King's assassination on April 4, 1968, planning began immediately to restore the house as a historic museum. The result stands before you today. As a boy, Martin and his siblings took piano instruction in the front parlor, but Martin and his brother Alfred (known as A.D.) disliked the boring lessons so they purposely loosened the screws of the piano stool to delay & distract their teacher. Adjoining the parlor is the family game room where young Martin listened to his favorite radio show - the Green Hornet - and where he & his siblings played Chinese checkers with their father OR the game Martin loved best - Monopoly. Which piece do you think he liked being … the top hat, the thimble? I’m guessing the race car seeing as how Martin eventually grew up to be a vehicle for change. Moving on. At every dining room supper, Martin was required to recite a Bible verse at the dinner table before eating. For several years his favorite was the shortest, simplest verse he could find — John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” With this chore completed, Martin tucked into his food with a keen appetite. He especially liked fried chicken, cornbread, collard greens, black eyed peas & apple pie with ice cream. After dinner, he would often hide in the bathroom to avoid dish duty, prompting his mother to come and look for him. Upstairs is the birth room where all the King children were brought into the world and nearby is the boy’s room, where Martin & his brother A.D. kept their twin beds. Their sister Christine later told folks that the boys room was always messy and that Martin & A.D. would have to be hounded into tidying up when company came over. It’s funny to picture Martin Luther King as a typical, mischievous boy, isn’t it? In point of fact, as you stand outside the house, I’ll give you one last scene to imagine. When people walked down this very stretch of Auburn Avenue fronting the house, Martin liked to startle passersby by hiding in the bushes. He’d tie one of his mother’s fox furs to a stick and poke it through the bush, pretending it was an animal. Although Martin may have liked to goof off, he was a strong student, skipping both the ninth and twelfth grades. Shortly after his family moved out of this house, Martin graduated from high school at just 15 years old! He was still relatively young (only 34) when he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. As our tour ends, I want to thank you for taking this historic walk through the Sweet Auburn neighborhood with me today. I encourage you to explore the area more fully as time permits - although after hearing about those delicious dinners inside the King home, maybe you’d like to grab a bite? Wherever the day leads, I hope the stories from this tour will travel with you. I’m Aaron Killian and this tour has been a joint production of Historic America and UCPlaces. To learn more about our trip planning services, public & private tours and digital content make sure to visit us at www.historicamerica.org and to find more audio tours, go to historicamerica.org and UCPlaces.com.