Atlanta, Georgia is the birthplace and final resting place of one of America's most pivotal and charismatic historical figures – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It was here that King’s crusade for equal rights was born and bred. His early life centered on Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn district, which served as the cultural cradle of the city’s African-American community throughout the 1900s.

Dwarfed by the towering skyscrapers of downtown, today the area offers a fascinating and sobering glimpse into some of America's toughest struggles. Along with attractions in neighboring Alabama (Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma), Sweet Auburn stands as a preserved and poignant reminder of how far we have indeed come – without letting us forget there is still work to do.

With Dr. Martin Luther King JR. day (the third Monday of January) taking place on January 15, 2024, here are five Atlanta sites that celebrate King's life and honor his Civil Rights fight.

Sign to Martin Luther King Jr National historic site in Georgia city in summer with park view
The Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site is spread over 35 acres © krblokhin / Getty Images

1. Martin Luther King Jr National Historical Park Visitor Center

The Martin Luther King Jr National Historical Park is home to Atlanta's main King-related sites. Covering a 35-acre area, the park has held the status of a National Historic Site since 1980. The Visitor's Center should be your first stop – not only to sign up for a tour of Martin Luther King Jr's Birthplace but for its featured exhibit, “Courage To Lead,” an excellent overview of the segregation, systematic oppression and racial violence that inspired and fueled King’s work.

If you have kids in tow, there is also the “Children of Courage,” exhibit, which focuses on children's roles in the Civil Rights Movement. You'll also find ongoing videos, brochures and all information available to best experience the National Historic Site as well as the D.R.E.A.M. Gallery, home to temporary exhibitions.

Birth home of Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr was born in this two-story home on Auburn Avenue in 1929 © alisafarov / Shutterstock

2. Martin Luther King Jr Birthplace

It makes sense to begin at the beginning – and that is exactly what this gorgeously preserved two-story Queen Anne-era home at 501 Auburn Avenue is. MLK was born here in 1929 and lived here for 12 years.

Built in 1895, MLK's paternal grandparents purchased the home in 1909 for a whopping $3500. The home is best appreciated on a free 30-minute tour led by National Park Service rangers (otherwise, you will only be able to view its exterior).

The first-come, first-served tours run hourly between 10 am and 4 pm. Limited to 15 people per tour, they do not run on Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's Day. It is the only attraction in the National Historical Park that requires a guide. You can visit earlier in the day for a shorter line, but be prepared to wait a while for your turn. Besides the home, the entire block of houses, as well as Historic Fire Station No 6 (built 1894) and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, are preserved as part of the site.

Exterior of the red brick Ebenezer Baptist Church on the corner of Jackson St in Atlanta. It was the church of Martin Luther King Jr. and his father.
Ebenezer Baptist Church is one of the most important places of worship in the United States © Barry Wilner / Getty Images

3. Ebenezer Baptist Church

After a multi-million dollar restoration returned it to its 1960s glory days, Ebenezer Baptist Church is the spiritual home of Sweet Auburn. Founded in 1886, the church still holds sermons today (both in person and online). This is where King’s father and grandfather served as pastors.

King received baptism here as a child and co-pastored with his father from 1960 until he died in 1968. The church also hosted his funeral. A deranged gunman murdered King’s mother, Alberta Williams King, the choir director, as she sat at the organ in 1974.

Gravesites of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia.
Both Martin Luther King Jr and his wife, Coretta Scott King, are entombed at The King Center © sframephoto / Getty Images

4. Martin Luther King Jr Center for Nonviolent Social Change

King's late wife, Coretta Scott King, established this working resource center and community institution the year of his assassination. In addition to its community and educational work, “The King Center,” acts as a living memorial to King's legacy.

The King Center has more extensive information on King's life than the Visitor's Center (personal artifacts and memorabilia, including his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, among further exhibits). It's also where you’ll find his gravesite.

King and his late wife rest in crypts made of Georgia marble, set floating in a long reflecting pool near an eternal flame. You will also find exhibits here on fellow iconic non-violent activists Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi.

Color photo portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Rev Martin Luther King's legacy lives on © Howard Sochurek / The LIFE Picture Collection via

5. The Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have A Dream” World Peace Rose Garden

Bordering the Peace Plaza in front of the Visitor Center, you'll find this meticulously manicured garden, one of only five World Peace Rose Gardens in the world. Featuring a starburst design anchored by 185 roses, it's a beautiful and peaceful artistic interpretation of King’s life and ideals.

In addition to the main attractions within the National Historic Site, a separate preserved area runs west from the National Historic Site along Auburn Avenue for several blocks, from the Sweet Auburn Curb Market (an excellent food market nearest the National Historical Park) to the Auburn Avenue Research Library.

You can also walk the pleasantly landscaped 1.5-mile-long Freedom Park Trail from the National Historical Park through to Freedom Park and on to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum.

This article was first published March 2015 and updated January 2024

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