Travel Guide: Atlanta for Kids - New York Times

April 29,2015


The South loves families, and Atlanta is a shining example of a city dedicated to amusing children. A traveling family with a car and the will to navigate the city’s sprawling freeway system can consume a steady diet of lush parks in what some call “the city in a forest.” There is a well-regarded zoo and a botanical garden. You’ll find rivers, water parks and plenty of Coca-Cola products in the city that is home to the company’s headquarters — all of which are especially welcome in the Southern summer heat.

But where’s the sport in that? A much more engaging and enriching vacation can be had as a civil rights tourist in a place that once called itself “the city too busy to hate.”

Some in your crew might find the idea of walking the same streets as a young Martin Luther King Jr. and delving deep into museums dedicated to African-American history not as much fun as a few days of Disney World. But ignoring the complaints will pay off with a deep and moving dive into a story of racial struggle and triumph, with heroes and villains and, ultimately, a better understanding of a child’s place in the world.

Exploring a city on whose streets the civil rights movement played out is a rich gift for a child. A trip framed by a sophisticated look at black history will pay off for years, especially when it comes time to fielding questions about racial justice and the realities of American politics.

Lesson Plan

Building a day based on the 2.7-mile path of the city’s new $98 million electric streetcar system allows you (and the stroller!) to move easily around downtown and the heart of the historic district dedicated to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement.

Until it was shut down in 1949, the streetcar served the Sweet Auburn district on the eastern edge of downtown. The strip of shops and churches made up what was once the wealthiest African-American street in the nation.

The most comprehensive place to begin a civil rights tour is the National Park Service Visitor Center at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, where you can sign up for tours of Dr. King’s birth home a few blocks away and get an overview of the civil rights movement that is tailored specifically for children.

From there, you can take a short walk to the house, a two-story Queen Anne-style home at 501 Auburn Avenue. Then walk back toward the visitor center (ideal for a bathroom break). Across the street is the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which his wife, Coretta Scott King, established after Dr. King was assassinated on a motel balcony in Memphis.

Outside, a large reflecting pool surrounds the couple’s tombs. Inside, the displays are a little run-down, but they contain some appealing personal artifacts, like Dr. King’s traveling Bible, his work boots and even bottles of his cologne.

When the going gets tough (and so humid it feels as if a wet duck is sitting on your face), it will be time to head to the original Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King and his father preached and where his funeral was held.

The wooden pews, walls and pulpit were restored to historical accuracy a few years ago. It is cool inside and often not crowded. It’s a nice place to sit in a pew and listen to Dr. King’s speeches, which run in a loop over the church sound system.