… they kicked us out into the dirty streets of Atlanta
Nights of the Living Dead by Tilly and the Wall
I spent last weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. If Stockholm, Amsterdam, and Manchester (and now Detroit) are my founts of design inspiration, let’s just say Hotlanta is a long way from knitter’s paradise… It is however brilliant for other reasons, and hosts an array of creativity that should not be overlooked for its incompatibility with toasty, cosy wool.
Atlanta is not the architectural sweetie shop of Detroit, but it has its own selection of impressive and exciting buildings. Nestled among them in Downtown Atlanta is the amazing Centennial Olympic Park, one of the best-designed multi-use public spaces I’ve come across anywhere in the world. I don’t know if that’s an opinion shared by anyone who actually knows what they’re talking about but my sole criteria for public spaces are that 1) they appear to be many things to many people, 2) have 24-hour usage, and 3) always feel safe. In terms of the way folk seem to interact with it the Centennial Olympic Park delivers strongly on all counts.
And it’s not the only exciting public facility in Atlanta. The MARTA mass transit system is a clean, efficient underground train network that serves the city’s central neighbourhoods, while the tram loop provides frequent, convenient transportation from Downtown through Sweet Auburn to the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site, including among other places thoroughly imbued with history and gravity, The King Library and Archives in the King Center, both old and new Ebenezer Baptist Churches, and the birthplace of Dr King.
Yous should know at this point that the rest of this blogpost might take on the feel of documenting every aspect of the Dr King memorial site in great detail… It’s a genuine place of pilgrimage for many, I can’t do it sufficient justice in less detail. Sorry! For proper travel tips on Atlanta, try this post by Where Maps.
Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.
Like millions of other children, I adored Dr Martin Luther King Jr. growing up. Dr King and the Civil Rights Movement were the acceptable image of the struggle against racism, injustice, and prejudice – but they were only part of the story. I began to learn about the other anti-racist movements that existed alongside and following on from Dr King: The Black Power Movement, Nation of Islam, and the Black Panthers. Both advocated for a more militant approach to confronting white supremacy and social inequalities stemming from a legacy of racist social structures, although their methods and objectives differed. When I started to read about what Malcolm X had said about Dr King, notably about the March on Washington in 1963, I started to feel as though I had to pick a side. It wasn’t until I attended a talk on Malcolm X’s final years that I learned his position had shifted towards a more reconciliatory tone prior to his death in 1965, and I realised there was more to these figureheads of justice than we were all letting on. I read more about Gandhi and Dr King and discovered that they were both far more radical than I’d been lead to believe.
I’m grateful that the exhibit in the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site doesn’t completely obscure the bigger picture of Dr King’s life and death, showing him as a man who understood the structural causes and social reproduction of racism – who connected the narrative of the Civil Rights movement with his anti-war position regarding Vietnam. It makes clear that Dr King’s advocacy of non-violence was never intended in the giving-flowers-to-coppers way it was later interpreted by the Vietnam protestors and their heirs in the 21st century, but as an antagonistic confrontation of the power wielded by authority claimed through injustice and oppression. It surprised me that a US government bureau (The National Park Service) would share this side of one of America’s great heroes, but I was delighted to have my scepticism challenged.
As well as an exhibition on Dr King’s life in the National Park visitor centre, the King Center contains additional Dr King, Rosa Parks, and Gandhi archives. The full memorial site also includes the house Dr King was born in and restored houses that stood during Dr King’s lifetime. It’s really uplifting to see such a controversial life being treated with reverence and passion.
History has been kinder to the Civil Rights Movement than many other struggles for social justice that occurred alongside and subsequently. So much so that Atlanta now prides itself as being the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, leading to many references all over the city. The National Center for Civil and Human Rights has an interactive display that is at times inspiring and others completely harrowing. It goes into more detail than I ever could here (I know that barely seems possible!) and sheds light on some of the more brutal outcomes of the movement.
Ok, so I’m clearly fairly excited about the legacy of Dr King (and really, shouldn’t we all be?). But at the same time, Atlanta is so much more than its history. The present is vibrant and buzzing with creativity, and as a likely home of my near-future, I hope to discover more of that very soon!
Thanks for sticking with me while I blethered on. I promise more interesting posts than mere city-obsessions are in the works!