Atlanta, Georgia: The de facto capital of the southeastern United States. It’s a hub for conventions, a former Olympic host city (the 1996 summer games, if you’ll recall), as well as home to CNN, Coca-Cola, AND the world’s busiest airport in the world.
But it’s also a city rich with African-American history and culture. In fact, it’s a must-visit destination for anyone who appreciates, is interested in, or just looking to learn more about the African-American experience. And while, sure, a tour of Atlanta to take in the city’s African-American history is perfect for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (King was born and raised in Atlanta) in mid-January, as well African-American History month in February, you should feel free to explore this illuminating and inspiring side to the city year round.
So if you’re ever in Atlanta and want to experience some essential spots of African-American history, here’s where you should go:
The King Center
Established in 1968 by Coretta Scott King, The King Center is the official, living memorial dedicated to legendary civil rights leader, and Atlanta native, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who led a nonviolent movement for justice, equality, and peace. Located in Atlanta’s Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, The King Library, and Archives are home to the largest repository of speeches, teaching, audio, film and other materials from the American Civil Rights Movement. It is perhaps the most important piece of history in the city and attracts over 650,000 visitors from around the world. Both admission and parking for the King Center are free!
National Civil and Human Rights Museum
Located in the heart of downtown Atlanta, the Center for Civil and Human Rights is a powerful emotional experience. It showcases moments from the American Civil Rights Movement and Global Human Rights Movements throughout history. General Admission for the National Civil and Human Rights Museum ranges from $0 – $18.25 + tax, with $18.25 for adults, $14.25 for children (ages 4-12), $16.25 for students, military, and seniors (65 + older), and finally, $0 for infants (up to age 3).
The African-American Panoramic Experience (APEX) tells the story of people of the African Diaspora, with visiting exhibits from around the world. Set in a historic building on a street that was called “The Richest Negro Street in the World” by Fortune Magazine in 1956, the museum is an amazingly educational and insightful experience.
Ebenezer Baptist Church
Located near the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr., Ebenezer Baptist Church is an important part of the King family legacy as his grandfather and father, Martin Luther King Sr., served as pastors before he took over in 1960.
Sweet Auburn Curb Market
Sweet Auburn is an important neighborhood for Atlanta’s history and home to many of the city’s attractions related to African-American history. The Curb Market that originally opened in 1924, has gone through renovations and is now home to a variety of independently owned eateries and retail shops. Stop at the market to try African-Caribbean favorites at Afrodish, for fresh ground burgers and onion rings at Grindhouse Killer Burgers, and award winning wings at Sweet Auburn Barbeque.
True Colors Theatre Company
Launched in 2003 by Kenny Leon (Tony-winning Broadway director) and Jane Bishop, True Colors Theatre Company is a non-profit theatre company dedicated to showcasing African-American classics and premieres by diverse playwrights that’s gained a lot of acclaim in the years since. The shows and community discussions focus on issues related to diversity and understanding. Since the company lacks a dedicated theatre space, you’ll have to check their website to find out where they’ll be performing and the price of admission.
Some of the city’s most prominent African-Americans are buried at Oakland Cemetery, including Carrie Steele Logan, founder of Atlanta’s first orphanage for African-American children; William Finch, one of Atlanta’s first African-American city councilmen; Bishop John W. Gaines and Julia A. Gaines, pastor and First Lady of Big Bethel A.M.E. Church; and Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first African-American mayor. Tickets for tours given by the Historic Oakland Foundation cost $12 for adults and $6 for students and seniors.
Tyler Perry Studios
In recent years, both the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia have established themselves as Southern meccas for the film and TV industries, serving as background for many popular TV shows (The Walking Dead, Drop Dead Diva) and movies (The Blind Side, Driving Miss Daisy). And soon you’ll be able to check out one of the largest studios in the country, owned by African-American filmmaker Tyler Perry. Set to open in late 2017, Tyler Perry Studios will have 37 houses and buildings dating back to 1800’s, 200 acres of green space (including a golf course), 14 sound stages, a 400-seat theater, a private screening room, and more.
The Royal Peacock
Opened in 1938 by an African-American, the Royal Peacock (formerly known as The Top Hat) was one of the few establishments in the city that offered live music and dance, and is still open today. It is here that music legends B.B. King, the Four Tops, The Tams, and Gladys Knight first performed. It also hosted several famous performers such as Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, and Dizzy Gillespie. Today, the club attracts fans of dance and reggae. Admission varies on performance.
Have some advice on appreciating Atlanta’s African-American history and culture destinations? Leave it in the comments section below!