Plan a Martin Luther King historical journey on his memorial service day

Today, in the U.S. we participate in the Martin Luther King Day of Service. 

Dexter Avenue Church, Montgomery, Alabama, Copyright © 2021 NSL Photography. All Rights Reserved.

Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama

In the U.S. today, we commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We remember his legacy. As his wife Coretta Scott King put it, he was the “preeminent nonviolent commander,” who used nonviolent campaigns to bring about “redemption, reconciliation, and justice.”

Of all the holidays in the U.S. named in honor of people, the King holiday is unique. To remember and honor the life of Dr. King, the day has become a national day of service. Across the U.S., following the lead of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the first “Martin Luther King Day of Service” was organized, millions of volunteers are now “turning their community concerns into volunteer service and ongoing citizen action on King Day and beyond.”

As the COVID pandemic rages on, we can begin to plan a future journey to some of the locations important in the life of Dr. King, to learn more about him and honor him.

Get refunds in cash when airlines cancel your flightThis year is different and more somber. During the COVID pandemic, the virus has killed more than 400,000 Americans. To stay safe, most of us will celebrate Dr. King’s life virtually, while others carefully following health and safety protocols will serve in-person, the best they can.

Travel to historic sites helps us to remember history. It can bring past events and lives into sharp perspective. It can help us learn valuable lessons to use in the future. Hopefully, as more and more Americans are vaccinated, the pandemic will end and we can plan future journeys.

As we serve our communities today, while honoring Dr. King, perhaps we can also begin to plan a trip to visit some of the historic locations important in the short life of Dr. King. That can in part enable us to honor and learn about the man whose courageous actions influenced and helped shape our nation during the twentieth century.

Visit Dr. King’s childhood home in Atlanta, Georgia

Childhood home of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta Georgia

The childhood home of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta Georgia

We can start in Atlanta, Dr. King’s birthplace and childhood home. He grew up there with his older sister, Willie, and his younger brother, Alfred. The home, a modest middle-class wood frame structure, stands much as it did when he lived there. In the home, you can begin to get a feel for young Dr. King’s family life.

From there, you can walk a block and a half to the Ebenezer Baptist Church. During the Great Depression, Dr. King’s father, Martin Luther King Sr. became the leader of the church in 1931. Despite the Depression, Rev. King Sr. organized membership and fundraising drives which enabled the struggling church to begin to thrive. He fought for equal justice and civil rights his entire pastoral life. In 1960, Dr. King Jr. joined his father as co-pastor of Ebenezer.

Also near the King family home, part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, is the Visitor Center, the King Center, the World Peace Rose Garden, and Dr. King’s Tomb.

Visit the Dexter Avenue Memorial Baptist Church where Dr. King directed the Montgomery Bus Boycott

From Atlanta, you can journey to Montgomery, Alabama. There you can visit the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, just a few blocks from the Alabama State Capitol building. Dr. King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Church in 1954, at the age of twenty-five.

Just a year later, after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on her bus, the Montgomery Bus Boycott began, led by Dr. King and others. The boycott lasted more than a year, and during it, Dr. King’s home was firebombed. Along with other leaders, Dr. King was arrested during the boycott.

Sunday Morning Service at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church.

Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church

Dr. King continued to preach non-violent action for civil rights and justice from the Dexter Avenue Church pulpit when, in 1957, he and others, including Ralph Abernathy, founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He went on to fight for civil rights in Birmingham, Selma, St. Augustine, and across the nation until his murder in 1968.

Consider going to Sunday church services in the Dexter Avenue Church. Sitting in the pews, before Dr. King’s pulpit, was a very moving experience for me when I was last there.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Civil Rights Memorial Center is behind the church. The Center has exhibits about the Civil Rights Movement, a small theater, and a classroom.

The Civil Rights Memorial evokes Dr. King’s message of redemption, reconciliation, and justice

In front of the Center, is the Civil Rights Memorial, designed by Maya Lin, who also designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The Memorial honors the achievements and memory of those who died during the Civil Rights Movement from the time of the 1954 Supreme Court decision of Brown vs. Board of Education to the assassination of Dr. King in 1968.

The black granite table at the center of the Memorial records the names of those who died during the movement and chronicles its history. Water emerges from its center, flowing across its top, and over its side, reminding all of Dr. King’s paraphrase of Amos 5:24 — “…we will not be satisfied, until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

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While we wait until it’s safe again to make this journey, we can participate in the Martin Luther King Day of Service. If you haven’t participated in the past, this year, on this day, would be a great time to start.

(All images, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and M. L. King Jr. childhood home are Copyright © 2021 NSL Photography. All Rights Reserved. )