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Atlanta never comes up short when it comes to special events and exhibits that observe Black History Month.
What distinguishes this city from every other is that millions of tourists flock to the city from all point of the globe for the specific purpose of heralding its achievements in overcoming a past marred by discrimination, misunderstanding and disadvantage based on race.
Here are six institutions that should be on your bucket list for understanding and marking Atlanta’s contributions to Black History Month.
1. The Herndon Home
For proof positive of human capacity to overcome all manners of strife and realize the American Dream, go to the historic house built by Atlanta’s first black millionaire.
Alonzo Herndon was born into slavery on a plantation 40 miles east of the city in 1858 and toiled in sharecropper fields as a child after the Emancipation Proclamation. With meager means and tireless energy, Herndon made his way to Atlanta and established a chain of barber shops that catered to the state’s men of influence. He parlayed his connections into a banking and life insurance empire that southern Blacks trusted in near exclusivity. Part of his fortune was spent in 1910 to have Black craftsmen design and build an opulent two-story mansion near the Atlanta University Center. This year, the Herndon Home observes its 15th year as a National Historic Landmark.
Tour Details: Conducted Tuesdays and Thursdays (10 a.m.-4 p.m.). Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for children’s, seniors and military members.
Time stands still, and visitors get a stark reminder that the Dreamer who died too young was once just a child growing up in a tiny house on the outskirts of downtown. On view during the guided tour: the quaint, antiquated kitchen where the King family meals were prepared; the postage-stamp of a backyard where Dr. King and his siblings frolicked; the immaculate parlor overlooking Sweet Auburn where guests were received; the formal dining room where family meals were prayed over; and the upstairs bedrooms — strewn with toys — where the King children were born and raised.
In its inaugural year of existence, this new downtown attraction has gained worldwide acclaim for providing state-of-the-art depictions of triumphs over discrimination waged by singular figures and en masse demonstrators. The spectrum of permanent interactive exhibits range from staggering re-enactments of lunch counter sit-ins and protest marches during the Civil Rights Movement (“Rolls Down Like Water”), to video stream booths where common international causes against violence and prejudice are shared (“Stream of Conviction”), and a dazzling array of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s written work and memorabilia are displayed on a rotating basis (“Voice to the Voiceless”). The NCCHR routinely stages lectures and exhibits to continually spark interest in causes and victorious advancing universal dignity and understanding.
Spanning 23 acres of territory on the eastern edge of downtown Atlanta, the King Center and its ancillary attractions (i.e., Ebenezer Baptist Church) will soon celebrate its 50th Anniversary of welcoming visitors to immerse themselves in the Dreamer’s thoughts, deeds and legacy. Permanent exhibits at the center include: artifacts belonging to Dr. King and his stoic wife, Coretta; a room of art and memorabilia dedicated to desegregation pioneer Rosa Parks; and a replica of the Nobel Prize for Peace Dr. King — age 35 at the time — was awarded in 1964; and gallery in tribute to the non-violent protest architect, Mohandas Gandhi.
Since the end of the Civil War, the Black centers of higher in education based within a few miles of each other in Atlanta’s West End have produced more influence over American culture, politics and theology than history can measure. Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta, Morris Brown and Spelman College boast an alumni roster that includes: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the gold medal Olympic hurdler Edwin Mose; authors (Alice Walker, Pearl Cleague, James Weldon Johnson); theatrical artists (Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson), and politicians (Maynard H. Jackson, Julian Bond).
An original signer of America’s Declaration of Independence — Augusta, Ga. slave-owner George Walton — and the descendants of forced laborers share separate but equal spaces of reverence in Atlanta’s most prominent graveyard. The first slave child was laid to rest in the panoramic burial ground in 1853 and a large portion of the six-acre complex has had its name changed from ”Slave Square” to “Potter’s Field” and the “African-American section” since. The manner of deaths entombed by most of Oakland’s entombed Blacks is unspeakable and forgotten. But personal and digital guides point visitors toward plots that revive the spirits of many of Atlanta’s “first” and most revered Black doctors, politicians, preachers, artists and entrepreneurs.