With the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death being commemorated this week, I couldn’t leave Atlanta without visiting his birthplace. And while the families of certain music celebrities have created somewhat bawdy, tacky memorials, the King foundation have respectfully kept his home relatively low key and authentic, just as it would have been as he was growing up.
Today, you can take a tour or simply stroll around Sweet Auburn, the African American neighbourhood of Atlanta that naturally became on of the main centres for the civil rights movements. Just down the street there’s a large visitor centre, now managed by the National Parks Service, which goes into more detail about Dr King’s background and family than the downtown Civil and Human Rights Centre.
But one thing that strikes you is that Sweet auburn is still a poor neighbourhood compared with some parts of the city. While the King household has a definite middle class feel about it, just across the road are much more modest homes, some of which have now been deemed unsafe to live in.
Along the main strip of Sweet Auburn are a collection of small bars, soul food restaurants an d all manner of delights which might have been a better option for nightlife than my own experience of downtown. That said, I’m not a hundred per cent sure I’d feel safe walking around here looking like an obvious tourist. Then again, I’ve been to neighbourhood bars in New Orleans. In similar areas – so maybe I need to come back and give it a try.
The Curb Market has been serving locals and workers from the nearby hospital for decades. It’s old hall has an array of traders offering fresh produce and great, cheap home cooked food from around the world. It also appears to be a centre for the community itself – and while not too busy on a Tuesday lunchtime, you get the impression that people would gather here for a coffee, a simple sandwich and a good old natter.
It’s the end of my trip, and that’s another two new US cities ticked off the list. Savannah surprised me in a way I didn’t quite expect it to. Atlanta – as many larger cities tend to – simply overwhelmed me by its size. It’s a business-like location – and doesn’t really seemed to be hugely geared up for the tourist trade, despite considerable investment in public transit. But America continues to fascinate me, and it has little to do with buildings or the climate. The spirit of its people – still fighting against uncertainty and adversity – it apparent everywhere. You’ve just got a make sure you ask the locals.
On a final stroll back through downtown, a man approaches me, telling me in no uncertain terms that “the media are conspiring to divide people” and it’s down to the people to fight it. He offers me one sheet of A4 paper, divided into four pieces and stapled together with whatever conspiracy theories he wants to sell me – and tells me that it’ll cost me five dollars.
I can’t pluck up the courage to tell him I’m a journalist.