Free at Last: Martin Luther King's Atlanta Resting Place

This week marks the 50th anniversary of I Have A Dream.

The epoch-defining speech was given by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, on the 28th of August 1963. It came at the end of the ‘March on Washington’, a monumental civil rights demonstration attended by a quarter of a million people, and widely acknowledged as a tipping point in the US civil rights movement, being followed in 1964 by the passing of the Civil Rights Act, and in 1965 by the Voting Rights Act.

Tragically, only five years later the dream was over. King, the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and champion of non-violent resistance was shot and killed outside the Lorraine Motel, in Memphis.

Dr King’s funeral was held in Atlanta, at the Ebenezer Baptist Church where his father had been preacher. 

The Church still exists on Auburn Avenue, a block from the house where King was born and grew up.

The house and church both form part of the Martin Luther King, Jr National Historic Site.

Also forming part of the site is The King Center, containing a remarkable archive of King’s writing, speeches and papers, and a visitor centre, where it is impossible to remain unmoved upon confronting the battered timber wagon on which King’s body was transferred to Southview Cemetery.

Across the road is the crypt where his remains were reinterred in 1970, and where, in 2006, his widow Coretta was finally reunited with her husband. 

I imagine the crypt of Georgia marble shines hopefully in the sun, but it stands with muted despair on less temperate days.

Few others were in attendance when I visited, which allowed lengthy and quiet contemplation, but also admitted a pinprick of fear that maybe the efforts of King and his contemporaries have been ever-so-slightly forgotten. But no, surely it's just the lateness of the hour and the threatening skies keeping them away.

The King Center has organised a programme of rolling events to celebrate the anniversary. Thousands of people have already made or started the journey to be in Washington this week. At the Lincoln Memorial, the place from where King delivered his address is marked with an inscription. The path to the front door of his childhood home is similarly identified. 

As we celebrate his remarkable oratory this week, the somber white crypt in a quiet Atlanta street, reminds us all how that The Dream was cut short, and how half a century later, for many it remains unrealised.

The Martin Luther King, Jr National Historic Site is located at 449 Auburn Avenue, NE
 Atlanta, Georgia. More information, including the excellent online archive, is available at the King Center website.

Listen to the speech here.