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One of the things you should absolutely do when you are in Atlanta is visit the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site. The man himself spent much of his life in Atlanta which was actually his birthplace and where he followed in his father's footsteps by becoming preacher at the Ebeneezer church. The complex includes lots of interesting areas and the whole thing comprises to give you a good insight into the man behind the legend. I have to admit that I knew shamefully little about Martin Luther King Jr before I visited, but I found everything about the site fascinating and well presented. I didn't think it was too over bearing especially for a novice like myself. I particularly enjoyed wandering around the visitor's centre where there is a sort of timeline of events that King was involved in and I was amazed to see just how many times he was arrested throughout his life. There is also an exhibit in there on both Rosa Parks and Ghandi who were both involved with King at some point. You can also see his Nobel prize, which I thought was a bit underwhelming actually! Outside the visitor centre you can see the tombs of King and his wife in the rather calming reflective pool. Down the road you can see the house where he was born and in the other direction the church were he was minister. In all, the site is well worth a visit. Definitely recommended.
My visit to Atlanta in 1996 was primarily to watch the Olympics, and there's so much sport you don't get the time to do the regular touristy things. This one attraction, however, the resting place and memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is rewarding enough that I can recommend it to you even if you are only changing planes in Atlanta! The man is, in my opinion, an icon - perhaps one of the five most important people to have lived in the 20th century. He was a man of the cloth, but believe me when I say you don't have to be religious to appreciate a visit to his memorial and to bring something back that will stay with you forever. I'm not kidding when I say you can make the visit while changing planes, so long as you have three or four hours to spare, since the MARTA train line links the airport with a station quite close to the site, with a regular shuttle bus from the MARTA station. The people of Atlanta have built a memorial worthy of the man, just a few steps from the house where he was born, the churches where he first prayed and later preached, and the home where he raised his family. You can visit all of these if you have an extra couple of hours. At the main memorial site there's a resource centre which is continuing his research work, where the staff are friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. There's also an obligatory souvenir shop, which is thankfully not at all tacky and a reflection of the dignity of the man who's memory it raises money to maintain. The most moving part, for me, was the tomb. Located outdoors, built of glistening marble and set on a plinth surrounded by peaceful water, in a courtyard with a covered walkway in honour of all the countries of the world who appreciated Dr. King's work and mourned his passing. I sat for an hour in quiet reflection about the importance of Dr. King's life, the brutality of his death and the potential the world has been denied. The memorial is about a mile and a half to the east of downtown Atlanta, in the heart of the area which seems as disadvantaged today as it was when Dr. King lived and worked there. We decided to walk back to town slowly, passing people who seemed to understand Dr. King's message, they were so friendly and welcoming. As we walked further, however, we re-entered the real world and suddenly realised the walk was not the smartest thing we had done that day. On the other hand, perhaps it was part of the lesson of the experience, to remember that there is much still to do to continue his work. Is Dr. King's influence now limited to the six blocks around his memorial? I hope not.