Thursday, May 17, 2012

Atlanta Road Trip Part 2

Saturday Morning

We had another great day in Atlanta and visited two more interesting places, the first of which ranked very high on my list of highlights from this entire trip. We visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Sweet Auburn. It was so moving, so beautiful. We had read online to count on spending two hours there. So not enough. We spent 5 hours there and could've stayed even longer except that we were getting really  hungry and had one other site to visit in the afternoon.

Take a look at the view from our 15th floor condo and look at that sky! And see how close we were to everything - we walked to CNN, etc. The only places to which we drove were the MLK center and one restaurant (more on that later).

View from our downtown condo

The Martin Luther King National Historic Site

It was an honor to visit this place - very moving.


 It was a beautiful, warm day. We had no idea just how many moving quotes, stories, videos, sights, and feelings awaited us. As you walk toward the main building, there are 2 sidewalk paths filled with footprints and names leading to a statue of Ghandi (a great hero of Martin Luther King's) and then the center itself. It is the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame and we took several pictures of many of the footprints we saw. The kids recognized a lot of names. I'll post 2 pictures here and list some of the others that caught our attention.

Other people on the walk of fame included:

Reverend Al Sharpton
Dr. Maya Angelou
Henry "Hank" Aaron
Harry Belafonte
Justice Thurgood Marshall
President Jimmy Carter
President Lyndon B. Johnson
Jesse Jackson, Sr.
President William Clinton
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Stevie Wonder
Lena Horne
Sidney Poitier
Tony Bennett
Joe Louis (The Brown Bomber)
and many more.

I don't know that I can fully articulate why equality and civil rights for all is so important to me, but it is and always, always has been. I am a straight white woman. I am not exactly a minority. I don't have many stories of my own to tell about times that I've been discriminated against. I could live my fairly easy and privileged life and not give a thought to those who don't have it so easy. But I don't.

I feel deeply . . . passionately about this issue. Racism, sexism, bigotry . . . they trouble me to my very core. They rankle me so much that I can't rest. These matters turn over and over again in my mind and I try to think of what can be done to put an end to injustice and hatred and ignorance.

When I was a child, Harriet Tubman was one of my historical heroes. As I've gotten older, I'd add Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Gandhi, and Barack Obama to that list. I'm inspired by the movers and shakers who don't stay silent on what is controversial or not clearly popular. I don't know if I'm as brave as they are, but I hope that I am.

My best friend in 2nd grade was black. I never understood when people would call her ugly, horrible names or call me names for being her friend. As I got older and learned more about racism, it boggled my mind that something as natural and inconsequential (to my mind) as skin color would be the focus of someone's hatred toward or low opinion of others. It just didn't. make. sense. It still doesn't make sense.

I don't understand how we haven't come further in the fight against racism, against bigotry. How is it that the same mistakes are being made? I'm not talking about legal or social mistakes. I'm talking about HUMAN mistakes. It goes against all that is good and right and kind. How? How??

My best friends throughout high school were Puerto Rican and Muslim. I never saw an issue with it as a child nor did I see a problem with it as a teenager. I certainly don't see a problem with it as an adult. The problem I see is with those who DO see a problem with it -- with someone being different, with someone being denied basic human rights and fairness and kindness just because they don't fit what someone has deemed "right" or "normal." Diversity is GOOD. Years ago, people were appalled to see interracial couples. Today, most don't bat an eye at that (at least I'd hope they don't), because we're seeing it more. I'd like to see even more diversity. So, we've come a long way, yet so many injustices persist across so many lines - race, gender, orientation.

I feel this in my very core. I can not stand by and do nothing. I can not, in good conscience, even be a part of a group that would fight against civil rights for all. There is a line in the sand and I want to be on the side that is FOR rights, not against.

I think that is part of what moved me so much to be in Atlanta in the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Center. I already felt these things, but I was even more inspired when I stood in that place, learned more about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the time of civil unrest in the 60s, read more of his inspired and courageous writing, watched actual footage of the ignorance and hatred during desegregation . . . just wow. What a phenomenal and inspiring man he was. It was a privilege and an honor to take our children there.

I see this same fire in our children -- they so innately and naturally come to their own opinions on what is right and fair and kind. We try very hard to make sure that they come to their own opinions, rather than making them think or believe what we do. It amazes me to see their minds at work -- how logically they come to simple, clear conclusions on their own about topics such as civil rights for all. They are so obvious if we are open to seeing it with clarity and don't muck it up with imposed ideas that go against the very nature of all that is good and loving and right. These kids amaze me and I feel so lucky to be their mom.

In one of the many buildings at this beautiful National Park, was a room dedicated to Gandhi, a room dedicated to Rosa Parks, and a room dedicated to Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King. It was filled with quotes, pictures, memorabilia, timelines, mementos, and more. So much history!

Our family went down to DC, years ago, to pay our respects to Rosa Parks when she was lying in state at the nation's Capitol. I'll always be glad that we did that.

Dr. King was inspired by Gandhi, his teachings, and particularly his emphasis on non-violence. He incorporated many of Gandhi's peaceful ways into his own practice and encouraged those fighting for civil rights to do so peaceably. It is ironic and sad that both of those men would be so violently killed by people who found their teachings of peace, fairness, and non-violence threatening.

Truth is God. Our God is able.

Dr. King's Grammy Award for his speech, "Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam"

The next part of our visit was really enjoyable. We walked across the street and down a couple of blocks and got to go on a tour of Martin's birth home and hear stories from his childhood. He was quite a stinker as a kid! It was so neat to hear about his family.

Stacy and kids on the porch of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s home

Mark and the kids

Just across the street and down a ways -- the poorer part of town in his "Sweet Auburn" neighborhood

The King family lived in a middle class home for the area, but many parts of the surrounding neighborhood were considered quite poor. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the home, but it was kind of nice to just be able to focus on experiencing it and being present for the tour instead of worrying about taking pictures.

One of my favorite tidbits from the birth home tour was learning that the King family insisted that all three children come to dinner dressed up, with their hands washed, and prepared to discuss current events with the family. They expected each child to read the news of the day, choose a news item, learn about it, form an opinion, and back up their opinion. Many of their neighbors criticized the King family for this -- remember this was during a time when people felt that children were to be seen but not heard. The Kings were way ahead of their time, impressively so. It's no wonder that generations of that kind of thinking eventually gave us one of the greatest minds and leaders of our day.

After the tour of the birth home, we visited other buildings, including Ebeneezer Baptist Church (where he preached), the center's beautiful reflecting pool that holds MLK and Coretta's tombs, the eternal flame, and more. We returned to the main building and spent hours reading the quotes, watching the videos, and generally being awestruck.

His wife Coretta was an impressive woman who fought for the center to be built

A solemn, beautiful memorial

Inside Ebenezer Baptist Church

He didn't want a big funeral . . .

I love how our family is in the reflection of this particular picture/quote.

The wagon that actually pulled his casket

The most moving part of the entire place for me
People were urging Martin Luther King to lay low and not speak up . . . to wait. He wrote this response to them from Birmingham Jail.

I lost it when I read that quote.
The center had 6 circular sections, each representing a different part of the civil rights movement in history and each containing a lot of information and quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. himself. Some of the photos and video footage were alarming and disturbing. As they should be. It was a disturbing, embarrassing time in our nation's history. We felt at times emotional and other times uncomfortable. But mostly we felt inspired. It was amazing. I highly encourage anyone visiting Atlanta to be sure to not miss this.

Nerds that we are, we bought books everywhere we went. Mark and I were both struck and impressed by King's writings. We knew he was a powerful speaker (our family watches his "I Have a Dream" speech every year on MLK Day), but I had no idea what an impressive writer he was.

We also bought ornaments (or keychains to use as ornaments) at every place we visited -- at Christmas, when we decorate the kids' tree, we put up ornaments from places we've visited and reminisce about our fun trips. :)

We spent the majority of our day there and left inspired and hungry. We are better people for having been there and paying our respects to some great leaders. We decided to try "Moe's"and it was very good, but they've got nothing on Chipotle. We are BIG Chipotle fans. But it was good to get some food in us.

We stopped back at the condo and let Scout out for a bit and relaxed as a family. I loved all the walking we did on this trip!

You know, I was going to write about what we did next in this post, but I think I'll give that its own post since this is already so long. The MLK center deserves its own post anyway.


Jimmy said...

What a great experience. Thank you for posting this. Now I have a new family vacation destination to look forward to! One of the things I admire about your family is your emphasis on treating all people with decency and kindness.

Jimmy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jimmy said...

Sorry, I posted the same thing twice.

Dr. Mark said...

Thank you so much for posting. Your passion for equality brought back all the things I felt individually and collectively as a family as we visited these sites. It's one of those places that everyone should see and experience, if only to understand the many perspectives of social injustice. And that quote where you lost it? Me, too. It summed up King's passion so succinctly.

Boquinha said...

Thanks, Jimmmy. That's so nice of you to say. I appreciate it.

Mark, I was looking up the quote and they edited it for that wall. I don't know how they decided what to pare down -- the entire thing is excellent. I'm glad we got the book.

Emily Foley said...

That looks like such a cool place, but I seriously doubt I could spend 5 hours there. Maybe I could? Who knows. I spent more than 5 hours at the American cemetery in Normandy, so maybe I could. I love MLK and his drive for equality. Listening to him speak is a spiritual experience for me. But I have a hard time knowing that he was a reverend and was unfaithful to his wife. For some reason it's always the first thought that comes to my mind when I think of him. He was a great man and I always think of his mistake first. That's so unfair and judgmental of me. I would hate to be remembered for my faults. I need to work on that.

Dave Johnson said...

I totally get what you're saying here about wanting to be involved in something that fights against racism, but I've often felt guilty that I'm not actively involved in something. But I've realized something too: the best thing we can do is to raise our children to simply not tolerate it. I think we're soon reaching a point where we won't have to rely on laws or police to protect against racism - I think it will just simply not make sense to our children's generation for the most part. In a sense, racism will be "bred" out of our culture. I try not to use that as an excuse to not be pro-active, but it really does seem the most effective way to battle it.