We stood on an unassuming street in Atlanta, Georgia. The small, old-fashioned looking houses standing in neat rows across the street suggested modest living. Simple. A woman with a backpack walked out her front door a few homes up and sped down the way, seemingly not seeing anything that was around her as she peered ahead to her day and her tasks.
A car pulled up and parked across the street from where I stood. Five individuals jumped out and pointed their cell phones and small, point-and-shoot cameras in my direction. I quickly skirted down the concrete steps I stood upon, and out of their respective shots and selfies. After all, they weren’t there to see me in my travel-worn untidiness.
We were standing on the property of Martin Luther King Jr’s childhood home. The home where he was born. The home where he lived for the first 12 years of life. We were told it looked much the same as when he had resided there with his parents and his siblings. Similarly, the houses on the block that I had just been inspecting had also been preserved in that late-19th/early-20th century style. The ranger who led our tour said the intention had been to give visitors a sense of what young Martin himself would have seen growing up on that block.
It was a moving, and somehow otherworldly, thing to consider.
We were in Atlanta for business (on Dan’s part) and exploration (on my part; with a dash of work included on my end, too). Knowing relatively little about Atlanta and Georgia as a whole, in the week leading up to our trip I had ventured into my beloved local library and pulled a United States of America travel guide off the shelf. As if you can fit this entire giant nation into one 300-page volume, but good on you for trying, travel wizards! Flipping to the couple of pages speaking to Atlanta, I found that two essential highlights were the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, and the Margaret Mitchell House. Dan had one day relatively free between work necessities, so we took to the road.
Our first stop was the Margaret Mitchell House. As you likely know, Ms. Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind. She started writing in a little apartment she shared with her second husband. The apartment is on the first floor corner you see above. The over 1,ooo-page book took a decade to write, received the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, and enjoyed a movie premiere within three years of its publication. Not bad for a first time novelist.
I could never quite get into the novel or movie, but after learning more about Ms. Mitchell I have vowed to give both a second try. A few facts I learned from our tour through the apartment.
- Margaret started her writing career as a journalist.
- She had some killer chutzpah this gal. Check out this photo from the early 20th century. You can just feel her “I dare you” attitude exuding among all those very tall chaps. You go, girl.
- Margaret didn’t initially want to publish her book. She was nervous it wouldn’t be well-received and it took some persuasion from a friend who worked in publishing before she agreed to submit it for consideration.
- After the publication and almost immediate success of Gone with the Wind, Margaret became rather famous. During an interview with her husband, John, a reporter asked if he was proud of his wife, to which he responded, “I was proud of her before she wrote the book.” (I’m certain I’m paraphrasing his exact quote; I failed to write it down!) I just love that.
- Within six months of publication, 1 million copies of Margaret’s book had been sold.
I have such admiration for gals like Margaret Mitchell. She can’t have had it easy as a professional, female writer in the early 20th century, but she wasn’t deterred. As such, please forgive me but I need to throw out a second, “You go, girl.”
After finishing our tour at the Margaret Mitchell House, we continued on to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. The National Park Service manages the several block spread of historic buildings from Dr. King’s childhood. Sites include his childhood home, Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church (at which his father preached, and later he was co-pastor there; his funeral service was also held there), his final burial site, and a number of exhibits detailing his life and the civil rights movement he triumphed.
We weren’t allowed to take any photographs within his childhood home, but the tour was beautifully led by a park ranger. It was absolutely fascinating to hear about his childhood, and the influences that guided his early life. Perhaps it’s too easy to assign meaning to any manner of circumstances and events that precede the outsized accomplishments and tragic, early death of a man like Dr. King, but you can’t help but do so. Especially when surrounded so substantially by his past as we were at these sites.
I so appreciate visiting these sorts of places and would encourage you to do so if you get the chance. It allows for insight and inspiration and thoughtful consideration of lives and accomplishments and dreams that still influence our own. We must never forget the achievements and sacrifices that have formed our country.
If you visit….
Here are some links to help you plan your own visit to these sites should you find yourself in Atlanta.
- Margaret Mitchell House — $13 for the tour
- Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site — free to all visitors, but tickets must be picked up from a ranger at the visitor center, and it’s first-come, first-served so plan accordingly
SIGNED, anya elise
p.s. Bonus fun fact: MLK Jr. sang in a children’s choir (he would have been 9 or 10 at the time), that performed during the debut of the Gone with the Wind film in Atlanta in 1939. So in the end, it’s all connected somehow. And ain’t that usually the truth.