CNN Black History Month

Historic district preserves King's legacy

King's tomb

From Correspondent Kalin Thomas-Samuel

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- It's an easy stroll from the house where Martin Luther King Jr. was born to the white marble tomb where he now rests.

The Martin Luther King Historic District and Auburn Avenue -- the area where King grew up -- lie in the shadows of downtown Atlanta and its high-rise office buildings.

Here, visitors can see many of the sites where the civil rights movement was nurtured -- from the family church where King and his father preached to Paschal's, the restaurant where King and other leaders devised their strategies.

Sixty years ago, when King was a child, Auburn Avenue was the center of black business and known as one of the richest black districts anywhere.

"Auburn Avenue was a very vibrant street, I mean it was booming," said Tyrone Brooks, a former King aide. "There were black-owned businesses that would blow your mind. Parts of 'Sweet Auburn,' as it's known, look much the same as they did in decades past."

But while much of the area has fallen on hard times, many institutions still thrive there: Atlanta Life, a leading life insurance company founded by a former slave; the oldest black-owned daily newspaper; and the Butler Street "Y."

Many Atlantans say their city avoided the race riots that plagued other areas, because black and white city leaders could meet in King's neighborhood for lunch every week and find common ground. At one time, it was the only place African-American leaders could meet to plan strategy.

Paschal's remains popular with power lunchers as well as with visitors yearning to catch the spirit of the dream.

The Martin Luther King Center, however, should be the main focus of any exploration of Atlanta's civil rights history. It houses many of King's papers, his Bible, and other items, such as the Nobel Peace Prize he won in 1964. King is buried at the site.

And, Brooks says the civil rights leader's dream remains alive there today.



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