The past three-day weekend provided a time to celebrate and learn more about a brave and revolutionary Atlanta native on his national holiday: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I first visited the historic Old Fourth Ward neighborhood to attend Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church on the 15th, which, as I found out, is situated right in the center of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Landmark District, a brief walk from the King Center and around the block from Dr. King’s boyhood home. The area is steeped in African American history and full of interesting art and businesses, and it seemed almost fateful that I happened to visit it on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.
Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church opened its doors in 1912 as an African American Catholic church and parish community by Reverend Ignatius Lissner of the Society of African Missions. According to the church website, the founding of the church prevailed amidst anti-black and anti-Catholic sentiment, well before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. I found it to have a friendly and active present-day community, as well.
After Mass, within the historic district I passed by some interesting street art including eye-catching murals that parodied Atlanta’s rush hour, and a historic-looking distillery that seemed worthy of exploration.
With all of that in mind, I knew I had to return the next day. For the remainder of Sunday, however, I left Old Fourth Ward for Midtown and the High Museum of Art, where I viewed several photographs temporarily on display featuring Dr. King, including this one of him and his wife, Coretta Scott King, leading the Freedom March in 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama:
As intended, I returned to Old Fourth Ward the next day, January 16th and Dr. King’s national holiday, to explore other parts of the neighborhood and the museums that comprise the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, now owned by the National Park Service.
First I visited the King Center, a museum established in 1968 by Mrs.King, devoted to the history of Dr. King and the anti-segregationist Civil Rights Movement.
In addition, a third room is devoted to the life, protest, and work of nonviolent activist Rosa Parks, who refused bus driver’s orders to give up her seat in the “colored” section of a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white passenger, starting the Montgomery Bus Boycotts.
Image courtesy of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site.
After my trip to the King Center, I walked across Auburn Avenue to Dr. King’s boyhood home, in which he was born on January 15th, 1929.
Rangers did not allow pictures of the home’s interior, but I made sure to take plenty of pictures of the outside, with its striking black and gold paint and gingerbread details:
A visit to the home of a revered historic figure always brings a fresh perspective to his life and the history of his times.
The first room on the tour comprises a parlor with a rust-colored tufted sofa and an ebonized upright piano. The second room down the hall was the living room where the ranger informed us that Monopoly, young King’s favorite game was played as well as Chinese Checkers, which his father preferred. Such details help to humanize an icon. The upstairs room in which Dr. King was born was off-limits to the public, but we could catch a glimpse of it in a large photograph on display downstairs.
Dr. King, who sought to eliminate inequality in all forms, spent his childhood in the comfort of a middle class home with floral wallpaper throughout and Eastlake-inspired furnishings. The mixed-income African American neighborhood in which he lived held other similar households, as well as low-income housing in close proximity. As we walked around the backyard of the home, we viewed the small historic dwellings of the area’s low income residents:
After the tour, I visited the gift shop, where I picked up several pencils with famous quotations by Dr. King in addition to a cookbook titled Soul on Rice: African Influences on American Cooking which reveals how African slaves influenced American (and particularly Southern) cooking. Of particular interest (besides the mouth-watering recipes) are the historic anecdotes from slaves about food preparation and plantation life.
After I left the gift shop, I walked through other nearby streets taking pictures. The area is home to so many colorful street murals, like this one by the artist Caveal, who pokes fun of Atlanta’s Rush Hour in the style of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein:
More public art:
Note the portrait of Dr. King in the background:
The last stop on my trip was to the Old Fourth Ward Distillery, which opened in 2014 and was the first distillery of spirits to open in Atlanta since R.M. Rose closed his eponymous establishment in 1906.
Producing vodka, gin, and a ginger lemon spirit called Lawn Dart, the distillery gives hour-long tours Thursdays and Fridays from 5:00 to 9:00, and Saturdays from 12:00 to 9:00. As seen on the shelves in the photograph below, a good number of original containers of spirits from the turn-of-the-century R.M. Rose Distillery are preserved at OFD:
I must return to this fascinating neighborhood soon. All in all, I believe Dr. King would be happy that the area in which he grew up has turned into a vibrant, diverse, and friendly place that continues to honor his memory.
I hope this post has inspired you to explore and learn about this significant and historic district of Atlanta.
Thank you for reading,