In the footsteps of the King
For only the second time in my life, I went today to a Baptist church service. My father was brought up a Baptist, his twin brother was briefly a Baptist elder, but I was 50 before I first entered the once imposing Gildersome Baptist chapel. There was a much larger congregation this morning at the Ebenezer church in Atlanta, closely associated with Martin Luther King. An impressive service, strong sermon, enchanting male choir (in smart matching suits with striking pale yellow ties) - and I didn't see another white face there. I hadn't expected the tactile aspect of the event. When the preacher asked the congregation to turn to their neighbour and say: "Have you welcomed Christ into your life?" the woman next to me grabbed my hand and posed the question. (Answer on demand!) And the last hymn was sung with everyone joining hands, and the last verse with hands high in the air. But I wasn't there as a tourist - and I enjoyed the service.
Around Ebenezer is the 'Sweet Auburn' district, the community amid which King grew up. Migrants from Germany initially settled here, then from the 1880s African Americans began moving in. Race riots culminating in particularly vicious violence in 1906 prompted 'white flight'. The black community that defined the area was prosperous. In the 1930s, when King was a child here, Auburn Avenue was reputed to be the most prosperous 'black' street in the world.
At least that is what the guide showing us round King's house - the mustard coloured one in the photo - told us. A spacious, sturdy building, and the locality is now run as a National Park. That includes some surviving 'shotgun' houses, smaller, with the front door opening directly on to the living room, built for blue collar workers.
The MLK 'National Historic Site' is not generally top of the list for visitors to Atlanta, but it's lot more rewarding than 'The World of Coca Cola', I promise you!
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