Martin Luther King Jr was a man with a dream. It was a dream that children could live in a nation where they were not judged on the colour of their skin, but by their character. Through his powerful speeches and non-violent approach, this dreamer became the most respected leader of the modern civil rights movement. Today, people of all races visit the great monuments that mark his life to hear his story, walk in his footsteps and honour him as an instrument of social change.
1. Dr King's Birth Home
Martin Luther King Jr was born on January 15, 1929, at 501 Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia. It was there that he and his family struggled through the tribulations of segregation.
Today, the house where he spent the first 12 years of his life with parents, grandparents, siblings and a variety of lodgers, is a national historic site.
While you can visit the home without a tour, the experience can be a bit of a letdown. Without the tour guide to give the background and unique stories of each room, 501 Auburn Avenue is very much just a normal house. Admission to the house as well as the tour is all free of charge, so why not jump on one of the tours led by National Park Rangers for some extra tidbits about King's early life.
2. Ebenezer Baptist Church
Located in the same Atlanta neighbourhood as Martin Luther King's birth home is the Ebenezer Baptist Church, which served as the spiritual home to the community long before King rose as a civil rights leader.
The church served as a point of stability through Dr King’s life. He was baptised there by his father, Martin Luther King Sr. At the age of 19, Martin Luther King Jr gave a trial sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, and afterwards he was officially ordained as a minister.
Although King was a preacher in other churches, in 1960 he became a co-pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church with his father. He would remain in this position, though not always at the church, until his death in 1968. His funeral was also held there.
Today the church still serves as a house of God, and visitors flock there to see where Martin Luther King Jr gave some of his most fiery speeches. Though the church remains open, it is constantly going through renovations. Due to these upgrades, the congregation currently meets across the street at the Horizon Sanctuary.
3. Detroit Freedom Walk
On June 23, 1963, crowds of 125,000 people marched from Woodward Avenue to the Cabo Arena and Hall in Detroit. The Detroit Walk of Freedom was considered the largest civil rights demonstration in United States history, until it was vastly overshadowed by the March on Washington just two months later.
This walk is famed because it was the place where King first made his ‘I have a dream’ speech – which was refined for its historic appearance two months later at the March on Washington.
Each year, Detroit residents gather to re-enact this famous walk – not in protest of segregation and support for equality – but to honour the man who once fought so ardently for it. Every year, Detroit holds the Freedom Walk from Woodward Avenue to the Cabo Arena sponsored by the UAW-Ford and the Detroit Branch of the NAACP.
4. Lincoln Memorial
Two months after Detroit's original Freedom Walk, Martin Luther King headed the legendary March on Washington. Around 300,000 participants marched through the nation's capital, culminating in front of the Lincoln Memorial where King delivered his finished version of his ‘I have a dream’ speech.
Today you can stand on the steps of the monument and look over the hustle and bustle around Washington D.C. While standing there, try to imagine the crowds packed in shoulder to shoulder and the echoes of civil rights’ history being made.
5. Selma To Montgomery Trail
King led three marches from Selma to Montgomery to protest the lack of voting rights for African Americans.
The first two protests were met with violence, as police brutally attacked protestors with billy clubs and tear gas. However, on the third march the protestors were escorted by 2,000 U.S. Army soldiers and 1,900 members of the National Guard.
Today, visitors can trace this historic 82-kilometre trail from Brown Chapel Church in Selma to the Alabama State Capital building in Montgomery.
King had a complicated relationship with the Harlem neighbourhood of New York City. He was stabbed there during a speaking tour in 1958, and later in 1964, he met his first rejection by African Americans there when he was stoned by Black Muslims.
Today, visitors flock there to visit Riverside Church, where King delivered his wildly unpopular ‘Beyond Vietnam’ speech just one year before his assassination. Today the Reverend Michael Walrond hosts a sermon every year to remember what King preached at Riverside Church. The Apollo Theater also honours the man each year with its annual Martin Luther King Day celebration.
7. Lorraine Motel
On April 4, 1968, the day after King delivered his memorable ‘I have been to the mountaintop’ speech, King was assassinated on the balcony outside of room 306 on the second floor of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The assassin, James Earl Ray, was captured trying to flee to Canada. He never gave a solid reason as to why he shot the most famous civil rights leader of all time.
The Lorraine Motel remained open until 1988, and it was remodeled into The National Civil Rights Museum in 1992. The rest of the museum is informative, but room 306, where King spent the last hours, of his life remains perfectly intact. The only new addition to it is a wreath commemorating the event.
8. The King Center
After her husband's death, Coretta Scott King established The Martin Luther King, Jr Center for Nonviolent Social Change, or The King Center for short, to honour his memory and serve as his final resting place.
Coretta Scott King envisioned Atlanta’s The King Center to be not a monument for the dead, but a living memorial. Almost one million visitors flock there each year to be inspired by King's life and pay respect to his legacy.
The King Center serves as an important first stop for those visiting the Martin Luther King Jr historic landmarks in the area, and it inspires new generations to carry forward King’s message.