Sunday, May 3, 2009

Pride - U2, Having just visited MLKs Neighborhood

I'm in Atlanta for the first time in 15 or so years, and have been stuck in a hermetically sealed conference hotel for the better part of three days. Today is my only full free day before more meetings tomorrow and then heading back to DC.

Friends on Facebook had suggested various things to do...Braves games (Can you say rain delay two days in a row?), Stone Mountain (too far, no car), APEX gallery (closed on Sunday), etc. So I decided to go to the Martin Luther King Historic Site and King Center, and I decided to get there by foot. Not a far walk, maybe a mile and a half. And it gave me the chance to walk through "Sweet Auburn," a neighborhood that was a thriving African -American community in the time of MLK.

First, the Center and Site - until researching for my visit, I didn't realize that there was a lot of angst between the family, who run the King Center, which includes MLK and Coretta Scott King's gravesite/memorial and the Park Service, which runs the "Historic Site" across the street.

The King Center was built in the 1970s, and apparently is essentially the MLK Library. They have trained tens of thousands of people in nonviolent change strategies, which is awesome. The facility itself is, frankly, pretty uninspired. It consists of three rooms - one about MLK and CSK, one about Rosa Parks, and one about Gandhi. Yes, Gandhi. The displays look like something out of an elite high school's "black history month" fair. The best thing about them is the real items they have to display - the suitcase MLK packed before his fatal trip to Memphis, his Grammy for spoken word, the dress she wore to sing a Freedom Concert. In fact, I learned a lot about CSK. She was a force. The tomb is on the property, as is his childhood home, and the original Ebenezer Baptist Church is next door.

While I was there, people were arriving to attend services at Old Ebenezer. And New Ebenezer - the new church...which is across the street adjacent to the Park Service-run Historic Site, which was built in the mid 1990's.

The Historic Site seems to be much better funded, maintained, and kept more recent. It has many displays, a theater, video, a civil rights "walk of fame" that features footprints of folks ranging from John Lewis to Dr. Dorothy Height. And the grounds are just beautiful.

The most upsetting part of the journey was the walk along several blocks of the neighborhood I mentioned above. Sweet Auburn seems to be more like Sour Auburn these days. Businesses are boarded up. Men were sleeping on the sidewalks and bus stops, public housing and boarded up apartments with barbed wire are more prevalent than families or row houses. It looks like gentrification is moving toward Sweet Auburn - the historic Odd Fellows Hall has a sign in its window that says, "Coming Soon - B Eco Breakfast Eatery." Huh?

So what about this? How about if the King family and the Park Service got together and created some efficiency with their two sites, worked with the City of Atlanta on some economic stimulus fund proposals and invested whatever savings and funding they can come up with in the revitalization of the community? Led by people OF the community. Oh, and there could be a joint MLK Heritage Center - one brought about by non-violent partnership.

...just sayin'.