Two years after the first African-American president of the U.S. moved into the White House, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was finally erected in Washington, D.C.
Since that time, racial tensions have grown more fraught, fueled by a number of police shootings of unarmed black men and acts of racially motivated violence like the mass killing at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
Days before one of the most polarizing presidents is set to be sworn into office, America celebrated what would have been the 88th birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. by honoring his legacy, reflecting on how his philosophies can be applied to the social injustices that persist today and serving their communities.
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In Atlanta, the birthplace of the civil rights activist, there were numerous ways to acknowledge the federal holiday. Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King once served as co-pastor, once again memorialized its most famous member during an annual celebration on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Elsewhere, Atlanta museums hosted family-friendly educational programs, and counties throughout metro Atlanta hosted local parades and programs.
“The Mountaintop” is a fictional production that reimagines King’s conversation with a maid at the Lorraine Motel on the eve of his death in 1968. The Aurora Theatre production features language that might be inappropriate for a young audience.
Head to the theater at 10 a.m. Feb. 1 to see the production for as low as $16. Tickets are regularly $20-$55.
Through Feb. 12. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. $20-55. Aurora Theatre, 128 E. Pike St., Lawrenceville. Auroratheatre.com.
Center for Civil and Human Rights Museum
The Center for Civil and Human Rights Museum will continue its partnership with Morehouse College through the unveiling of “Morehouse College and the Making of a Man,” the newest addition to the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection at the museum.
A program commemorating the new collection will be held on Jan. 13. John Wilson Jr., the president of Morehouse College; Marcellus Barksdale, professor of African-American Studies; and Fulton County Chairman John Eaves will explore King’s commitment to “college, cloth and community.”
6-8:30 p.m. Jan. 13. Free. Center for Civil and Human Rights, 100 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd, Atlanta. Civilandhumanrights.org.
DeKalb County celebration
A few days before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, DeKalb County will host its 33rd annual event dedicated to the activist. “King’s Legacy of Peace With Justice for Our World” will feature Francys Johnson, the president of the Georgia NAACP and a minister, as the keynote speaker.
10 a.m. Jan. 13. Free. Maloof Auditorium, 1300 Commerce Drive, Decatur. Naacpga.org.
‘Salute to Greatness’
The King Center’s annual “Salute to Greatness” gala will once again recognize extraordinary national and international people and organizations who have “made notable strides toward improving the quality of life for all,” reads a message from Bernice King, one of King’s children.
Honorees will include civil rights activist the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery and Costco.
The reception and dinner will be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Jan. 14. The dress code for the event is “black tie optional.”
6 p.m. Jan. 14. Individual tickets begin at $250. Hyatt Regency Atlanta, 265 Peachtree St., Atlanta. Thekingcenter.org.
High Museum celebration
A current exhibit at the High Museum revisits the life and legacy of King through five photos. The images show the activist as he fought for civil rights and spent time with his family. The exhibit is on display through March 12.
The museum will host a series of kid-friendly events on Jan. 15 to honor King, too.
High Museum of Art teaching artists will lead an art-making workshop from 1-4 p.m., and three story times will explore books that focus on King and the civil rights movement at 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m.
These events are included in admission to the museum.
If you’re looking for a free alternative, a screening of “Mighty Times: The Children’s March” will take place at 2 p.m. The 40-minute documentary, produced by Teaching Tolerance alongside HBO, tells the story of young people who participated in the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Ala.
Noon-5 p.m. Jan. 15. $14.50 (ages 6 and older), free (ages 5 and younger). High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St., Atlanta. High.org.
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Visit any National Park Service site on Martin Luther King Jr. Day for free.
If you’re looking for a National Park site where you can learn more about the legacy of King, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in downtown Atlanta features the home, church and grave of the civil rights activist.
While tourists can view the outside of King’s home, the inside has been closed since August. Officials with the National Park Service cited “structural damage” for the closing.
9 a.m.-5 p.m. Jan. 16. Free. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, 450 Auburn Ave., Atlanta. nps.gov.
Ebenezer Baptist Church Commemorative Service
Nearly 2,000 people gathered at Ebenezer Baptist Church to remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Many speakers came to the defense of Georgia Congressman John Lewis.
After he criticized president-elect Donald Trump, Trump reacted on Twitter by calling Lewis "all talk" and said his district was crime infested.
Ebenezer's pastor Rev. Raphael Warnock said anyone who considers Lewis all talk needs a basic lesson in American history.
There were long lines to get into Ebenezer Monday morning at hundreds of people wanted to come inside to celebrate King Day.
Channel 2’s Richard Elliot spoke with one family who drove to the church from Peachtree City, because they wanted to join others in that celebrations.
“It was important because we wanted to teach them to know that just because you have school off, doesn't mean it’s just a day off, that Dr. Martin Luther King did extraordinary things for me and my children and we wanted to come honor him,” Ronesha Black said.
Dr. Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and CEO of The King Center told the gathering that we need to cross racial, political and economic divides and come together as Americans.
Atlanta History Center
Entry into the Atlanta History Center and Margaret Mitchell House is free on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Visit Atlanta History Center and tour its many exhibits, including “Gatheround: Stories of Atlanta,” before featured speaker and author of “Go South to Freedom” Frye Gaillard talks about his book, which is geared toward middle-school kids, at 3 p.m. The event will also include a book signing.
10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Jan. 16. Free. Atlanta History Center, 130 W. Paces Ferry Road N.W., Atlanta. Atlantahistorycenter.com.
Henry County Parade/Peace March
THenry County marked the holiday with their annual MLK Day parade.
The celebration last from 10 a.m. until just after 11 a.m.
It’s moved from the streets inside the preforming arts center for a program and speakers.
The biggest festivities were the march and parade that kicked off in McDonough at 10 a.m.
The route took it down to the square in downtown McDonough and back, with marching bands, step and dance teams, and all sorts of community organizations.
They were led by two grand marshals who represent the changing face of politics and racial diversity in Henry County.
One is newly-elected Darius Pattillo, the first black district attorney in history of Henry County, who just took office within the last two weeks.
"Henry County’s a diverse county, just like our country. We in Henry County are very much unified and we're here today as a diverse group of folks, diverse group of organizations, for the same purpose, to walk and march in unity and continue the work and legacy of Dr. King," Pattillo said.
The other grand marshal was Dee Clemons, the first black woman elected to the Henry County commission.
Cobb County program
Cobb County held its annual celebration to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monday.
The service at Turner Chapel AME Church in Marietta is one that people there say is one even that brings them back year after year.
The celebration has been held for 31 years.
Channel 2’s Fred Blankenship was the emcee for the event, organized by Cobb County government and local NAACP leaders.
Stevie Wonder’s ‘Happy Birthday’ was played as people honored Dr. King’s legacy on his 88th birthday.
Many said this is a special time for them each year as they reflect on how far people have come with race relations and how far we still need to go.
“We've come a long way from the back of the bus to now to ride in the front of the bus,” said parishioner Ken Dollar. “And we had an African-American president. And now we have someone like you on WSB. Back in the day this would not have been true.”
The Atlanta Journal Constitution contributed to this report.
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