Posted January 29, 2021

How Dr. King’s Legacy and Black History Has Shaped Atlanta

Destinations

Black culture is alive and well in Atlanta. You can see, hear, feel, and taste it. Atlanta-based label LaFace Records cranked out chart-topping hit after hit in the ‘90s, helping put the city on the map in the music world. Do the names Toni Braxton, TLC, Usher and Outkast ring a bell? There’s a good chance you’ve listened to all of these artists.

Photo Credit: Blocks via Unsplash.

Thanks to the city’s prestigious consortium of historically black colleges and universities, there’s also a tradition of Black excellence in higher education. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker is a celebrated Spelman College alum, acclaimed artist Amy Sherald studied at Clark Atlanta University; and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a proud Morehouse College graduate.

On the political and social justice front, Atlanta has a longstanding legacy in the fight for racial equality. There’s a reason it’s referred to as “the cradle of the civil rights movement.” In the early 20th century, segregation was the law, and upwardly mobile African Americans flocked to Auburn Avenue. It’s here in Sweet Auburn (as the neighborhood is affectionately known) that they purchased homes and opened restaurants, churches, and businesses. Dr. King was born on Auburn Avenue. You can tour the modest two-story home he grew up in, now a museum.

A larger than life John Lewis is immortalized with a mural on the side of this Sweet Auburn building. Photo courtesy Sweet Auburn Works.

In the 1960s, Black political leaders followed Dr. King’s lead and planted roots in the ATL. In 1965, a 25-year-old John Lewis led the “Bloody Sunday” march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. When Lewis stepped down as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (which he founded), he moved to Atlanta. From 1987 until his death in 2020, he represented the city as part of Georgia’s fifth district in Congress. To honor the civil rights hero’s legacy, visit his mural on Auburn Avenue, and then sit down for a mouth watering meal at the iconic Black-owned Paschal’s restaurant. This classic soul food spot has served Lewis and Dr. King, along with the likes of Atlanta’s first Black mayor, Maynard Jackson, and Georgia Congressman and two-term Atlanta mayor Andrew Young. These leaders mixed, mingled and planned over plates of the famous fried chicken and spoonfuls of oh-so-good peach cobbler.

Paschal’s mac and cheese is on another level. Photo courtesy of Paschal’s.

Today, Atlanta remains at the forefront of politics. In 2018, Stacey Abrams became the first Black female nominee for governor narrowly losing the Georgia gubernatorial race. In 2020, Abrams emerged as a voting rights powerhouse—rallying Black voters to help Joe Biden win the Peach state, and catapulting Rev. Raphael Warnock from the pulpit of Atlanta’s landmark Ebenezer Baptist Church (where Dr. King preached) to become Georgia’s first Black Senator.

The plant-based burgers at Slutty Vegan are worth queuing up for. Photo Courtesy Sweet Auburn Works.

Innovative Black entrepreneurs continue to thrive—from foodie favorites like Pinky Cole’s hip and healthy-ish fast food eatery, Slutty Vegan (we’ll have a Dancehall Queen plant-based patty topped with spicy jerk plantains and vegan cheese, please) to businesses that promote peace and community like Yolanda Owens’s farm-to-skin Iwi Fresh Garden Day Spa.

Iwi Fresh is a local go-to for farm to jar skincare. Photo courtesy Iwi Fresh.

Indeed, Atlanta’s past and present is steeped in Black history and culture. Keep on moving and visit four more Black history landmarks and highlights.

Pay your respects to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at The King Center. It’s not only a memorial to him and his wife Coretta Scott King, but also a monument to social justice and nonviolence.

In the historic Sweet Auburn district, visit the APEX Museum, which heralds the contributions of African Americans, regionally and nationally.

Tantalize your taste buds at the Municipal Market, or Sweet Auburn Curb Market as locals call it. Our picks: Tilapia Express for fresh fish served fried, baked, and blackened and homemade sweets at Miss D’s Pralines.

The Sweet Auburn Curb Market is a destination for all things delicious. Photo courtesy Sweet Auburn Works.

Learn more about the civil rights movement via poignant photos and interactive exhibits at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta.

*With things being the way they are, don’t forget to plan ahead and double check business hours and days of operation for the locations listed above.

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