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Archive for the ‘Civil Rights site’ Category

We left Cherokee, North Carolina, on a rainy Saturday evening and headed south to Atlanta.  Driving in the dark while it is raining with a van full of tired people will always test the mettle of the driver.  We could not make it all the way to Atlanta, and decided to stop for the night in the suburb of Buford, 30 miles north of Atlanta.  We found the Wingate by Wyndham in Buford so enjoyable that we made it our home for the next three nights.

Our first day was a day of rest.  Dad and the kids went swimming in the pool for a couple of hours while Mom did laundry and enjoyed some quiet time in the room.  Quiet time is very hard to come by when you are with your family 24 hours a day.  That evening we met Mom’s college roommate and her family for dinner.  Dodie gave us the lay of the land in Atlanta and some suggestions of places we should visit.

The next morning we headed to downtown Atlanta to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Site.  We had been a little worried about the notoriously bad traffic, but we left around 10:00 and had no problems getting downtown.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Historical Site is a complex operated by the National Park Service and includes the home where MLK, Jr. was born and grew up, his tomb, the Ebenezer Baptist Church, an Interpretive Center, and the King Center For Non-Violent Social Change.  Luckily, we had a beautiful day and enjoyed the walks between the buildings in the neighborhood known as “Sweet Auburn”, where Martin had played as a boy.

Similar to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, you must have a ticket to tour the birthplace.  Tickets are free but limited in number and must be obtained the day of your visit.  We picked up tickets to take the guided tour of MLK, Jr’s birthplace and childhood home, and then visited the final resting place of Martin and Coretta Scott King.

The atmosphere in the courtyard is peaceful and serene.  The Kings’ tombs are set above a reflecting pool and an eternal flame burns in their memory.

We met our Birthplace tour guide on the steps of the beautiful historic house built in 1895.

Over the years, the National Park Service has purchased and restored most of the homes on the block where MLK, Jr. grew up, so you get a very accurate feel for what the street looked like at the time.

The interior of the home has been restored to look as it did back in the 1930s when MLK, Jr. lived there.  Martin and his two siblings were born in the house because their father did not want them to be born in a segregated hospital.  The tour was very interesting and helped give us a more complete picture of MLK, Jr. and the influences that shaped his future.  It was hard to believe that we were walking through the house where one of the most influential people of the 20th century lived, played, did chores, and studied, just as our kids do.

After touring the home, we walked through the neighborhood fire station a few doors down. MLK, Jr. walked past this station every day.  One of the few segregated institutions in this vibrant black community, it was a constant reminder of the need for change.  Andrew really liked the vintage fire engine inside, and it was interesting to learn about fire fighting in the 1930s.

A few blocks away from the Birthplace is Ebenezer Baptist Church where his father was the preacher and MLK, Jr. was ordained at age 19.  Unfortunately, the church is closed for a major renovation project, so we were not able to go inside.

In the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change, we saw many of the personal effects of Martin and Coretta Scott King.  It is really cool to see actual items from such an important part of our country’s history.  Our daughters found the wall of photographs very interesting.

This is the room key for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

In the NPS Visitor Center, we watched an inspiring film about children in the Civil Rights Movement and saw many multimedia exhibits about key events in the Movement.  Here we had an “putting the pieces together” moment.  Our 4-year old Andrew saw statues representing the “March from Selma to Montgomery” led by Dr. King in 1965 and stated, “Hey, that is the march!”  We were able to learn a lot about the Civil Rights Movement in the South, and the MLK, Jr. National Historic Site was a great way to wrap it up.  (You can read about the other Civil Rights sites we visited here.)

The next day we drove to historic Grant Park in Atlanta to see the Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum.

This attraction teaches its visitors about The Battle of Atlanta in 1864 where General Sherman and the Union Troops defeated the Confederate troops, capturing the city of Atlanta.  The main attraction here is an oil painting depicting the battle in great detail, but this is no ordinary oil painting.  Completed in the 1880s, this panoramic painting in the round is over 40 feet tall and encompasses more than 16,000 square feet.  We sat in theater style seats that rotated in a circle, allowing us to see all of the painting as a narrator described the events of the battle.  It was really amazing, but even more so when you realize that the painting was done over 120 years ago.

A sample of the incredible detail in the painting

In the attached exhibit hall are many artifacts from the many Civil War battles fought in Georgia.  Our kids were amazed that the soldiers wore thick wool uniforms all year long, even in the 95+ degree heat.  Seeing the actual weapons coupled with the great detail from the painting helped them visualize and understand how terrible the battles must have been.  Also on site is the original steam engine “Texas” that was involved in the Great Locomotive Chase, a very interesting Civil War event we had never heard of before.  (You can read about our visits to other Civil War sites here.)

After the museum, we made the final and greatest stop on our barbeque tour of the south, Daddy D’z BBQ Joynt.  At first glance, this was the type of place that we would normally have been hesitant to go into.

Year Long Adventure declares this the best BBQ ever!

Luckily we gave it a try, and had the best meal of the trip.  The service was excellent and the food was even better.  We were still raving about it days later.  If you like barbeque and you find yourself in Atlanta, then you need to eat here.  We promise, you will thank us afterward.

You can follow our adventures at Year Long Adventure on Facebook.

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The kids completed a Civil Rights unit with Mom before our trip to the Southeast, so we were looking forward to visiting some of the places that they had learned about.  We had our first opportunity when we visited Birmingham, Alabama.  After filling up on pizza at The Mellow Mushroom (yum!), we drove to the 4th Street Historic District to visit the Civil Rights Institute in Downtown Birmingham.

Our 8 year-old Audrey found the institute very interesting and was impressed at the amount of artifacts here that had been saved from the 1960s.  Focusing mainly on the local people and events, the Civil Rights Institute uses a mixture of actual news footage, life-size dioramas, and interesting displays (including an actual bombed bus from the Freedom Rides) to illustrate the history of Birmingham before and during the Civil Rights Movement.  Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside.  The Institute also houses a research center which has preserved the personal narratives of people who experienced these events first-hand.

Despite the hardships and inequalities caused by the Jim Crow laws, the black citizens of Birmingham built a vibrant community in the 4th Street area with strong businesses, churches, and schools.  Unfortunately, this city became known as “Bombingham” in 1963 because of all the bombs regularly set off  in Civil Rights activists’ homes and churches.  The park across the street from the Institute was the site of the May 1963 protest during which the Police Commissioner Bull Connor ordered his men to use attack dogs and fire hoses to disperse the singing children who were peacefully marching.  It was these violent scenes televised across the country which helped turn the tide in the struggle for Civil Rights.

Across the street from the Civil Rights Institute is the 16th Street Baptist Church where on September 15, 1963, a bomb was detonated in the basement that killed four young African-American girls.  The church is still an active congregation today.  It was really moving to stand in front of this church and to ponder all that happened on this block in 1963.

After Birmingham we traveled South to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama.  Our focus here was learning about the famous 50 mile march from Selma to Montgomery in March of 1965.  The National Park Service has declared the road between Selma and Montgomery a National Historic Route.  The NPS Interpretative Center in Lowndes County is located on this road halfway between Selma and Montgomery.

We learned a lot at the center, and the kids added another Jr. Ranger badge to their collection.  The march took place two weeks after “Bloody Sunday” when the Alabama State Police used tear gas and batons to stop the first attempt.  Under Federal protection, four thousand people started walking in Selma and the group had swelled to 25,000 when they reached the state capitol in Montgomery five days later.  The four spots where the participants camped each night during the march are marked along the route.  The purpose of the march was to bring attention to the fact that despite laws to the contrary, African-Americans were not given the same voting rights as their white counterparts.  Even attempting to register to vote had dire consequences.  The actions here in Alabama lead to President Johnson presenting the 1965 Voting Rights Act to Congress.

After our visit to the center, we headed to Selma and drove across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of “Bloody Sunday”.  Allison, our 11 year-old, was impressed that the marchers were able to cover such a long distance in only 5 days.   The most surprising fact we learned was that despite the passage of the Voting Rights Act, hundreds of African-Americans in this county who registered to vote still lost their jobs as sharecroppers as a result.   With no place to live, they gathered to live in a large tent city for 18 months.  The Interpretive Center was built on the location of this tent city.

It is hard to believe that these events in the Civil Rights Movement happened only forty-five years ago.  Our children struggle to understand how these things could have happened, but they agree that it is important to remember and pay tribute to the bravery of those who stood up and demanded change.  Audrey put it quite well.  “If we don’t learn about history, it could happen again.”

To read about other Civil Rights Movement sites we visited on Leg 3, click here.

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