On December 1st 1955 in Montgomery, a black seamstress by the name of Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white person. She was duly arrested, and in the hours following her arrest she could not possibly have known that she had just triggered the civil rights movement in America.
Word spread to Atlanta and a young pastor by the name of Martin Luther King, Jr led a boycott of all buses in Montgomery. The boycott lasted for 385 days and resulted in the end to racial segregation on all Montgomery public buses. King was just 25 years old but had already had the first attempt on his life when during the boycott a shotgun was fired at his door.
Following the success of the boycott, King helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which existed to help promote non violent protests in the name of civil rights. It was during services for the SCLC that King would have the second attempt on his life after he was stabbed during a book signing.
Over the next few years King would lead many protests, all of which were completely non violent and with Christian values. But it wasn’t until April 1963 that the country stood up to see just what was going on in the Deep South of the United States.
In what would ultimately become known as the Birmingham Campaign, essentially the SCLC were openly violating laws which they believed to be unfair and were based on segregation. Mass sit ins throughout the city were organised and consisted of women and children, the idea was that negotiations could begin between the district council and the SCLC. The police response was brutal and footage was beamed across the United States. The country suddenly was made tragically aware of the struggle of human beings whose only ‘crime’ in life was one forced upon them by fellow human beings of a different creed.
By 1963 support had grown and King marched on Washington, stood at the mall and delivered a speech to over 250,000 people who had turned out in support. In his 17 minute speech King delivered what is arguably the most famous excerpt from any speech ever:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
In 1964 King was awarded the Nobel Peach Prize and suddenly the world was watching.
On April 4th 1968 at 6.01pm King stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, when a bullet entered his right cheek. He was pronounced dead by 7.05pm. He was 39 years old. Following Kings assassination race riots erupted across the United States. Days later US Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
Back in Atlanta Kings last sermon was at his own Ebeneezer Baptist Church. The mourners by Kings own request heard nothing of his awards, or his achievements, but were told simply that he had tried to “feed the hungry, clothe the naked, be right about the war question and to love and serve humanity”.
These days most visitors to Atlanta head straight to the world famous aquarium, or to the home of Coca Cola. Some even make it as far as the CNN building where they can see one of the countries news behemoths at work. Few walk just twenty minutes out of the city to Sweet Auburn, to the now designated US National Park that is the Dr Martin Luther King Jr Historical Monument.
In life when you think about people who you believe you should live your life by, we all have different beacons. But for me M.L.K is one of the greatest human beings to ever have lived and so we made our way on the MARTA to Five points, and then headed down Auburn Ave to the National Park. The MARTA is the public transport system of Atlanta and after paying $1 for your ‘breeze’ card, you then top it up for about $2.50 per one way journey which can be split on the train and bus system. It’s highly efficient and extremely cheap. There is no kids prices as it is done on height which looks like a 3 year olds height. That said I never paid for Jack and never got questioned.
The skyscrapers quickly disappear and you are soon faced with an old, well kept street of wooden homes that look middle class by 1960’s standards. Ebineezer Baptist Church sits quite nonchalantly and leads up to a well preserved street of 1960’s homes.
Everything is completely free to enter, including Kings home. But you must get tickets which we had missed out on. The visitor centre has a huge collection of history, but across the street the Centre for Non Violent Protests is home to clothes such as what King was stabbed in, his wallet, Nobel Prize and various other quite amazing pieces of history – For example, the shoes he wore in specific marches.
It is difficult to detract yourself from the struggle that King and black Americans faced and as we walked by the tomb of King and his wife which faced a flame burning slowly in the hot Atlanta sun I saw in the kids that they got it. I had of course read to them before we got to Sweet Auburn and Charlie was already fully aware of who Martin Luther King was.
Modernity took hold as we left and saw a movie being made, which actually was the first of two we saw in Atlanta. For those who like Ride Along, we saw the sequel being made.
We made our way to Olympic park and relaxed, by 6pm I had been upgraded to business class on a flight to Mexico, by 9pm we were in Cancun and as we landed I saw a huge 60ft bottle of Corona painted on the side of the control tower at CUN airport. By 10pm I had a bottle of Sol, by 11pm we were all asleep.
The next chapter of the trip had begun.