I decided one day to take a walk. I chose Auburn Ave. in Atlanta because I was feeling in low spirits and I thought that maybe a visit to the past might cheer me up. I began by taking the train down to the Peachtree Center Marta station. I realized that I should have gone all the way to Five Points later, but I believe that the trip wouldn’t have been the same if I had done that. It was around 9 a.m. and after exiting the station, I walked among businessmen and women rushing to offices after grabbing coffee and donuts from the local shops. I felt out of place in my jeans, tee-shirt and tennis shoes. I saw only business suits and heels.
I walked down Peachtree Street past the trolley which would have taken me to the King Center if I’d wanted to ride, but I kept walking and eventually ended up at Woodruff Park. The contrast was obvious. Homeless people were milling about taking up most of the benches of the park. Right there was the top of Auburn Ave. and I began to grow excited about this new adventure. At the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder why this particular park was the hang-out for most of the homeless downtown when just up the street a short few blocks away, people with middle to upper incomes strolled by out of sight. It was as though an invisible force was keeping the two sides of society apart and shielded from one another. Shaking my head, I made that left turn onto Auburn Ave. to begin my journey.
I passed by Georgia State University first. Students were everywhere carrying computer cases and backpacks as they walked very quickly to their destinations. They all seemed to be looking into their phones and hardly noticed where they were. But they managed not to get hit by cars as they jaywalked onward. I came to the underpass of the downtown connector freeway and it was loud with all the traffic overhead. Here were a few homeless men laying on the sidewalk and up above my head directly under the bridge itself, safe from rain and the harsh hot sun. I kept it moving and I felt no fear from them. They were too busy sleeping.
Walking the Celebrated Historical Path
My first sign of being in the Sweet Auburn district was a podium at the edge of a small green area known as the John Wesley Dobbs Plaza to my right. It was placed in front of a huge sculpted head of Dr. King sitting on a pedestal. On the podium was an image and explanation of how everything was affected by the freeway which cut directly through the neighborhood. Because of the new development in the early 1950s, and the fact that downtown Atlanta was to be built on the west side of the freeway, leaving the poorer aspects of Auburn Avenue neglected to the east, Sweet Auburn began its decline. It was a sign of things to come as upper-middle-class blacks began moving out of the area leaving its businesses to spiral downward. However, in 2005 it was recognized as a historic area and redevelopment rapidly began.
I continued my walk and soon came upon the SCLC building where so much of the civil rights movement’s planning came into effect. It housed some of the most historic figures and with its structure right in front of me, I began to travel back in time to when I was a child hearing and seeing the sights of marches, speeches, and protests. I was too young to grasp some of it, but I knew that it was an exciting as well as a scary time for black folks.
I would pass Big Bethel’s church and the Wheat Street Baptist church and reiterate my understanding that Atlanta truly had so many churches compared to any other place I’d lived. Finally, I could see the MLK National Historical Park to my left across the street. Right in front of it was the “Behold” statue which every black person loves seeing. It reminds us of that beautiful scene from the television mini-series “Roots” where Kunta Kinte, in the ancient African tradition, raised his child to the heavens to say “Behold, the only thing greater than yourself.” On my side of the street was another church, the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King was the pastor. Then right next to it sits the memorial and museum of Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King.
A New Spirit
Upon walking up the steps, I could feel the movement of the Spirit. Pride, triumph, a sense of hope, a reverence for the journey we as a people have taken, it all comes into play among so many other emotions and thoughts as I read the messages etched into the walls of the memorial. Here was our true leader, here was our blessing from heaven, here was our voice. Not only the voice of black people but of all oppressed people. Inspiration followed me as I continued to explore the site.
All the while throughout the visit, the center had set up a sound system which piped out Dr. King’s speeches to inspire those who heard them. I was able to listen to the “I have a dream” speech as well as the “I have been to the mountaintop” speech which was his final speech. I would have loved to have heard the one about Vietnam. I saw his and Coretta’s crypts, and in the museum itself, were the memorabilia associated with not only their lives but also the life of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King's inspiration. I left there knowing that I too had a contribution to make and that I would make it.
After leaving the museum, I walked across the street to the Historical Park where I sat next to the rose garden. I slightly meditated upon the movement of my spirit from feeling low, into seeing visions of humanities triumph over these dark times. I searched for my place in the scheme of things and I could feel the universe pushing me towards my goals. I know that Dr. King was only a cog in the wheel and that we human beings would eventually find our way out of the darkness we see in the news each day. I gained a genuine hopeful attitude.
It was then that I heard an argument. A black woman and a white man, both in wheelchairs started pushing and shoving each other up the way from me. I could see that they were both pretty high and possibly homeless. The woman looked in my direction and I quickly got up and stepped away in the opposite direction. I felt a little ashamed until I saw a huge golden butterfly which flew around me for a few minutes. The Universe has a unique way of showing me things. There may be hope in our dreams, but in reality, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Allison C Whitfield, author of "The Shelter of the Shade Tree", is a Freelance writer who creates articles describing the unconventional for those who wish to explore new ideas and new challenges. She has had 30 + years of experience in Office Administration and Customer Service. She is also a [...]