• Sign up for our Free newsletter for discounts, tips and even more!

Share this page:

How to learn about Atlanta’s rich Civil Rights History

It’s hard to overestimate how important Atlanta was in the fight for Civil Rights in the U.S. Of course, cities all over the South experienced violence and participated in the fight for equality, but Atlanta long-ago staked her claim as the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement. 

Ebenezer Baptist ChurchThe historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Because there’s so much Civil Rights history in Atlanta, it can be challenging to figure out what to do, learn about all the people,  and how to see all the places. On this page, I’ll help guide you through this.

Here, you’ll find information on:

Who’s Who – beyond MLK

It’s natural to think Atlanta’s Civil Rights history is all about Martin Luther King, Jr. He was, of course, the most well-known and powerful force behind the movement. But there were dozens of Atlantans involved in the fight for equality and justice – Black and White, Christian and Jewish. Many of the stories are well-known, some are more local lore. 

In the Who’s Who in Atlanta Civil Rights page, you’ll find out about some of the other pioneers and heroes – and heroines – in the struggle for Civil Rights, from MLK’s mentor Benjamin Mays to baseball legend Hank Aaron. There are quite literally dozens of people who have had a hand in the fight for Civil Rights. Many are well-known and many are not – but all helped guide Atlanta through one of the most turbulent times in history.

And once you read about some of these figures, pay attention as you make your way around Atlanta. Dozens of streets, parks, bridges and other locations are named after many of them.

John Lewis was Atlanta's CongressmanJohn R. Lewis represented Atlanta in Congress for more than 30 years.

National Center for Human and Civil Rights

National Center for Human and Civil Rights in Downtown Atlanta opened just seven years ago but has made a tremendous impact on the city. The center houses Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s artifacts and important papers and takes visitors through the U.S. Civil Rights movement as well as telling stories of global human rights issues.

The center hosts everything from lectures to book discussions and even law enforcement training. With a recent donation of $17 million by Arthur Blank (founder of Home Depot, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and well-known Atlanta philanthropist), the center is being expanded to include more experiences and exhibits. Visit my page (HERE) to learn more about this important landmark. 

Civil Rights Landmarks

Just as there are numerous people and stories, there are dozens of places to experience this seminal part of American history all over Atlanta. If you’re observant, when you walk around, you’ll usually see a street, park or bridge named for one of Atlanta’s Civil Rights icons. There are historical markers memorializing key figures and places, but the entire city is really one big Civil Rights museum. It just takes a bit of time to absorb it all. 

One of my favorites are the John Lewis Freedom Park, one of the largest parks in Atlanta and a “linear” park because it connects several beautiful and historic neighborhoods. Interestingly, it bookends the Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum and Library and the King Center – two must-see venues in Atlanta. 

Be sure to check out historic Auburn Avenue, too, as well as the crucial Civil Rights locations all around the King Center. Many of the sites are part of the U.S. National Park service, too. 

Atlanta Baseball and Civil Rights

Baseball has a direct connection to the fight for Civil Rights in the U.S., starting when Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball in 1947 for the Brooklyn Dodgers. More than 20 years later, the Atlanta Brave’s Hank Aaron broke the most sacred record in baseball – total home runs, held for decades by Babe Ruth. Aaron endured vicious, racist hate mail leading up to this, but wound up becoming one of the most-beloved baseball players in the country and a champion of Civil Rights from the 1970s until his death in 2021. 

But baseball’s role in Atlanta – particularly in the Black experience and in Civil Rights – goes beyond the MLB. The city had its own Negro League team, the Atlanta Black Crackers,  which turned out many celebrated players. The team even played in the same park as the White Atlanta Crackers – the minor league team. 

Civil Rights Tours

Atlanta is quite literally full of Civil Rights sites, from the famous to the obscure. There are many ways to explore Atlanta’s Civil Rights spots, from self-guided tours to group tours. 

Some of the best tours are the Civil Rights Tour, operated by MLK’s private driver, which will take you to all the places where Atlanta’s Civil Rights icons made history. For a self-guided option, check out the United States Civil Rights Trail which provides interactive maps and guides to more than 100 locations in 15 states in the U.S. where the battle for Civil Rights was waged.

Atlanta’s Jewish Community and Civil Rights

Jews have a long history of fighting for Civil Rights – many marched and died for participating. The Atlanta Jewish community was an early and public advocate for equal rights for African Americans. Notably, with some violent consequences. But the community’s advocacy and early acceptance of Martin Luther King Jr. changed the Civil Rights story and solidified Atlanta’s position as the capital of the South and the “City too busy to hate.” 

Other Sites – and Sights! 

As the epicenter of Black American life and Black culture, Atlanta is rich with sights, sounds and scenes reflecting Civil Rights and Black American history. From the first Black owned insurance agency (which is still in existence) to historic soul food restaurants to vibrant street art portraying Atlanta’s heroes – from John Lewis to Stacey Abrams – the entire city teems with history and it’s one of the highlights of any visit to Atlanta. 

You can also get a glimpse of Civil Rights heroes around town in various murals and street art scenes. Always be alert – you never know what you’ll see. 

I’ve been exploring Atlanta’s Civil Rights rich history for years and years – I will never learn it all. But I love delving into the city’s deep and storied past and showing it off. You could spend days and see it on numerous tours, or just try to catch the highlights in a day, but whatever time you spend, you will be moved. Hope y’all will join me in exploring one of the most important parts of Atlanta!

New! Comments

I'd love to hear what you think! Please leave a comment below.