In the 1920s and '30s, Auburn Avenue was known as “Black Peachtree,” the thriving commercial and cultural heart of African-American Atlanta. Saxophone wails streamed out of the jazz clubs, while well-dressed men and women sauntered past the brick facades. It was the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr., and other heroes of the civil rights movement. Today, Sweet Auburn’s prosperous past is hard to discern through the dilapidated buildings, but underneath the grit and grime is an important part of the country’s history.
Start your tour at the visitor center for the (1) Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site (450 Auburn Avenue; www.nps.gov/malu). The site encompasses several attractions. From the visitor center, join a ranger-led tour of the (2) King birth home (501 Auburn Avenue), where MLK was born in 1929.
At the corner of Auburn and Boulevard, visit the 1894 (4) Fire Station No. 6 (39 Boulevard NE), a Romanesque Revival building and one of the city’s eight original firehouses. Inside are an antique fire engine and an interesting exhibit about the desegregation of the fire department.
Cross Boulevard, and you’ll come to the (5) King Center (449 Auburn Avenue; www.thekingcenter.com), a living memorial where the Center for Nonviolent Social Change continues working on King’s vision for peace. Behind the center, in Freedom Plaza, is (6) King’s gravesite.
Back out on Auburn Avenue, head west to (7) the Ebenezer Baptist Church (407 Auburn Avenue) where King, his father, and grandfather preached, and where MLK’s funeral was held in 1968. Tours available. Across the street is the newer sanctuary, where church services are now held.
One block west is (8) Wheat Street Baptist Church, which has served a loyal congregation since 1869. A Gothic-Revival building, it was named for a wealthy merchant. “Wheat Street” was renamed “Auburn Avenue” in 1893.
Farther west is the (9) Prince Hall Masonic Building (332 Auburn Avenue), a Masonic temple that was once presided over by John Wesley Dobbs, the influential and unofficial “mayor” of Sweet Auburn.
The (10) Herndon Building (231-245 Auburn Avenue), now rather decrepit, was erected in 1924 by Alonzo Herndon, a former slave turned founder of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company.
Farther west, the (11) Royal Peacock Club (186 1/2 Auburn Avenue) was a stylish performance venue where some of the greatest African-American musicians—Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Ray Charles—played to packed crowds. Across the street, (12) Atlanta Daily World (145 Auburn Avenue; www.atlantadailyworld.com) is the headquarters of the country’s first successful African-American daily newspaper. A couple doors down, the (13) APEX Museum (135 Auburn Avenue; www.apexmuseum.org) has exhibits on the history of Sweet Auburn, the civil rights era, and the African-American experience.
From here, double back to Piedmont Avenue, and take a right. Walk one block and take a left onto Edgewood Avenue. At the corner of Edgewood and Jesse Hill Jr. Drive is the (14) Sweet Auburn Curb Market (209 Edgewood Avenue; www.sweetauburncurbmarket.com), a farmer’s market full of fresh produce and Southern cooking. The name harkens back to days of segregation, when whites shopped inside and blacks bought from stalls on the curb. Finish your tour here, with a snack and a good dose of people watching.
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