My Child’s First Lesson in Civil Rights
I recently took my four-year-old daughter Micah to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. district in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood. While waiting for the next guided tour of Dr. King’s Birth Home, we strolled over to the reflecting pool and the eternal flame near his gravesite. As we gazed into the pool, I was inspired to share with my daughter just some of the great things Dr. King accomplished during his lifetime. Many years ago when Dr. King was a child, I told her, he could not play with little kids who did not look like him. I added that because of Dr. King, today you are able to have lots of different friends, and you can be anything you want to be in this world! As we continued our exploration, my toddler was excited to see the eternal flame, which symbolizes the need to keep Dr. King’s dream alive for all people.
Some 700,000 visitors come to the historic district each year to draw inspiration from his life. There were many people from all over the world visiting the day we were there, and we stood with them to share a moment at the flame. They too had come to learn about Dr. King and his non-violent work for social justice. When it came time for our home tour, we checked in at Historic Fire Station No. 6. This firehouse was not integrated when Dr. King was a young child, but like most kids, he would visit the firehouse to see the fire engines. There’s a restored 1934 fire engine inside it today – the same engine that Dr. King would have seen as a young child. Now part of the King Historic Site, the old fire station is just down the street from the King Birth Home. All the homes in this section of Auburn Avenue have been restored to the 1930s era. It’s an amazing experience: to be walking here with your child, knowing that the neighborhood looks very much like it did when Dr. King lived on the street.
You cannot help but be struck by the charm and beauty of the King family’s Victorian-era home. On Jan. 15, 1929, young Martin King was born in this house. He lived here with his parents, grandmother, older sister Willie Christine King and younger brother Alfred Daniel Williams King until he was 12. This was a happy home, with lots of family and visitors from the local Ebenezer Baptist church congregation, where young Martin’s grandfather and father preached. It was easy to feel the warmth and happiness that radiated from the home. The tour includes the formal areas of the home, which holds the original piano that the King children played – complete with one broken key. Upstairs, you can see the bedrooms, including the room young Martin shared with his brother – a typical boys’ room with wooden race cars on the floor and even a Monopoly game.
One thing that my daughter pointed out on the tour was the white doll on the bed in the room that had belonged to Dr. King’s sister Christine. During that time there were no black dolls, but today my daughter is able to have dolls that look like her, something we were reminded of as she carried her new Doc McStuffins doll on the tour.
Dr. King and the life he lived are so very different from today, but because of his work, dedication and leadership, we are still reaping the rewards of his labor. The light of his work continues to shine. I encourage you to take some time to visit the King Birth Home. My daughter and I are already looking forward to our next visit.
– Caren Davis Lightfoot