Martin Luther King Jr. Day In Atlanta: How The City Keeps The Icon’s Legacy Alive

Image courtesy of Smithsonmag.com

Image courtesy of Smithsonianmag.com

If you’ve never been to a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in Atlanta, you are definitely missing out on an event of epic proportions. Since ATL is the birth place of Dr. King, it’s only right that we put on a magnanimous celebration for him which begins with a long list of community activities.

“Atlanta is his home so it’s our duty. We need to be the example for cities all over America and the world for that matter,” says Georgia State University doctoral candidate and local educator, Natasha Thornton. As transplant and educator, Thornton, like me, has witnessed the striking enormity of King Week in Atlanta in comparison to other cities.

I still remember my first King Day march and rally several years ago. There was something amazing about the massive crowd, specifically the youth who came out to celebrate and be a part of the commemorative tradition — even in the blistering cold on their day off from school. Community activists and public figures gave speeches while swarms of people walked the streets of the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, which includes the original, restored Ebenezer Baptist Church, Dr. King’s childhood home, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (“The King Center”), Freedom Hall, the National Park Service Visitor Center, plus several other landmarks.

I was enthralled by everything from the lively tunes of the local high school bands, to the lingering aromas from the street food vendors, to the sight of young and old people holding banners and marching in solidarity down historical Auburn Avenue. I immediately knew that this was an event that I had to bring the fourth and fifth graders in my after school 4-H club to witness the following year. I hoped that by allowing them to experience the march and rally at the center of such a positively charged atmosphere they’d be able to see clearly, beyond what is taught in text books and documentaries, how the works of one man still moves and inspires not just a world unknown to them, but their own community.

Like most people, I learned about Dr. King in grade school and understood his historical significance in the world. However, it wasn’t until I moved to Georgia’s gem that I saw firsthand not only the amount of personal, direct influence this icon had over people’s lives but specifically how he impacted his community, during his life and now. Atlanta remains home to a number of Dr. King’s close friends, other highly vocal civil rights activists who stood in support of his vision of equal rights for all people.

The service work of leaders such as Congressman Andrew Young, Reverend Joseph E. Lowery, Dr. King’s late wife, Corretta Scott King and friend Hosea Williams continues to collectively empower and uplift the people of metro Atlanta. Williams’ Feed the Hungry Foundation, for example, provides food for thousands of displaced and less fortunate residents every Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter as well as hosts other community drives. The historical Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King co-pastored with his father Martin Luther King, Sr., has a strong outreach program that not only provides lunch and dinners for families and individuals weekly, but reaches out to men by providing free haircuts, health screenings, food and music every June. Additionally, The King Center, founded by Corretta Scott King, offers an array of community programs designed to help new generations understand and apply his teachings and continue his legacy of humanitarianism and nonviolent social justice. 

With all of these entities in the same downtown Atlanta neighborhood, there is no shortage of opportunities to get involved in building one’s community. Thornton emphasizes, “As an educator, I made sure that the King Holiday was not just one day to think about one man, but a time for reflection on what are we doing now and everyday to continue his legacy.”

So, if you want to do your part and contribute to Dr. King’s legacy of service, here is list of things to do around town:

Sandy Springs Sixth Annual MLK Jr. Day Celebration
Monday, January 16, 10 a.m.
Sandy Springs City Hall Council Chambers
Keynote speaker: Georgia Supreme Court Justice Harold D. Melton
More info: www.sandyspringsga.gov or call the Citizen Response Center at 770-730-5600.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Commemorative Service
Monday, January 16, 2012, 10:00 a.m.
Ebenezer Baptist Church – Horizon Sanctuary, 407 Auburn Avenue, N.E., Atlanta, GA
FREE and open to the public (Limited Seating)
Keynote speaker: Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, Sr. Pastor of Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas Texas.
Contact: Barbara Harrison at (404) 526- 8911 or programs@thekingcenter.org

King Week Holiday March & Rally
Monday, January 16, 2012
FREE Open to the Public
The March is held on Auburn Avenue from Peachtree Street to Jackson Street. The Rally is held on Auburn Avenue in the King National Park Area. To participate in the March call or email 404.614.3233 or cleoorange@bellsouth.net

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service Project
Monday, January 16, 2012
FREE Open to the Public
The MLK, Jr. Day of Service, sponsored by Hands On Atlanta  includes numerous community service projects throughout Atlanta in honor of Dr. King. For more information contact: Hands On Atlanta at (404) 979-2800 or www.handsonatlanta.org

Hosea Feed The Hungry Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Dinner
Monday, January 16, 2012, 6:30 a.m.- 7 p.m.                                                                                                                                             Annual event at the Georgia International Convention Center for volunteers aged 16+. Georgia International Convention Center, 2000 Convention Center Concourse, College Park, GA 30337. For more information contact (404) 755-3353.

Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness
Monday, January 16th, 1:00 p.m. & 3:00 p.m.
Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at the Alliance Theatre with free public performances inspired by the Declaration of Independence. The Alliance Theatre, in partnership with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), presents a free reading of Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Happiness, an original script written by acclaimed author and playwright Pearl Cleage in collaboration with its high school Collision Project students.
Rich Auditorium, Woodruff Arts Center
RSVP for free tickets: 404.733.4749 or atedu@woodruffcenter.org