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Atlanta, Ga.
Visited: February 5, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 144 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Civil Rights Walk of FameWHAT IS IT?
Two blocks in the historic Atlanta district of “Sweet Auburn” that tell the story Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life as framed by the greater struggle for civil rights in America.

BEAUTY (5/10)
A short promenade where visitors can match their footprints to those on the Civil Rights Walk of Fame leads from the parking lot to the red-brick Visitor Center. Parts of the MLK Jr. NHS blend in with neighboring structures dedicated to the memory and vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. such as the King Center, the MLK, Jr. Community Center and the new Ebenezer Baptist Church. Sweet Auburn is still a residential area. Homes on historic Auburn Avenue look much like they would have when MLK Jr. was growing up here.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (9/10)
The most well-known leader of America’s civil rights movement was born and raised here. The Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church which is part of the NHS served as a religious center for the King family whose members preached and worshipped here, as well as a setting for meetings of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the SCLC and later the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) with the principles of non-violent direct action and civil disobedience to unfair and immoral laws. This site is dedicated to the life of the “most eloquent spokesman for racial justice of his time”, as well as the continued quest for equality in America.

Hand in HandCROWDS (7/10)
People filled the Visitor Center, courtyard and streets connecting the Site’s buildings. Luckily, the third most visited historic site in the National Parks System is designed to handle a crowd. Exhibits encourage movement. There is plenty of room for everyone. We wished tours of the King birth house would have been given on a more frequent basis. We were able to wait four hours but most of the tourists left wanting more.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (5/5)
The King NHS is located just a mile and a half from downtown Atlanta. Innumerable signs lead you off Interstate 75/85 exit 248C (Freedom Parkway/Carter Center) right onto the Boulevard and immediately right again into the large parking lot area. We were there on the first Saturday in February. Despite the large crowds, there was plenty of parking room. Free parking downtown in one of America’s largest cities – what a concept!

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
The bookstore, which is located in the back of Historic Fire Station No. 6, tries to keep pace with the Site in exploring and expanding upon the Civil Rights Movement. Unfortunately, it spreads itself a little thin. One of the Site’s many free handouts lists contact information for organizations such as the American Red Cross, Amnesty International and the Southern Poverty Law Center. The handout’s other side recommends 19 books to read. Only six of these books are actually for sale at the bookstore.

Just one of the many inexplicably missing texts is Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years: 1963-65, part two of Taylor Branch’s Pulitzer Prize winning history of the Civil Rights Movement set around the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

COSTS (5/5)
The Site is entirely free. Free guided tours of the Martin Luther King, Jr. birth house take place hourly. Spots fill up fast. The only tickets available at noon were for the 4:00 and 5:00 tours.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
Two Rangers were positioned at the main Visitor Center; two more were outside the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. Given the amount of people here on this beautiful Saturday afternoon, these Rangers served more as pointers and directors than as interpreters.

King Birth HouseTOURS/CLASSES (8/10)
Grown-ups will have to crouch to read the first exhibit at the Visitor Center, designed not for them, but for “Children of Courage”. The exhibit chronicles events in young Martin’s childhood and adolescence which shaped his beliefs and teachings, explores the role of young people in the 50s, 60s and 70s and ends with a reflection: “Who Can Take the Lead in Ending Injustice?” Open the door to see a future leader.

Pull-out drawers allow kids of all ages to see how black and white stereotypes found their way into dolls, toys, and magazines from each decade and how these images evolved over time. A 15-minute film accompanies the exhibit.

The adjoining room has several cubicle-type exhibits centered around life-sized statues memorializing the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement. Each cubicle contains museum items, interpretive panels, quotes and a video exploring either an aspect of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life or his leadership in the struggle for civil rights.

The Visitor Center hosts changing temporary exhibits. Powerful black and white photographs of human rights heroes from over 35 countries lined the walls during our visit. Speak Truth to Power now begins a Latin American tour to Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil, and in France, Germany, and (pending) India. The MLK Jr. NHS was an ideal setting to expand this movement’s audience.

Only one thing prevented this Site from earning a perfect score and that was the condescending tone of the young Ranger from New Jersey who led our tour of MLK’s birth house. Although most of the audience had probably spent the better part of the day touring the Site waiting for the next available house tour, he began his talk as if we knew nothing about MLK, the Park Service, or anything really. His patronization was enough to make us leave the tour before we set foot inside the house. We handed our tickets to a dad and a young boy peeking inside just as the Ranger was about to turn them away.

Even without a tour of the house, the Site offers much to its visitors. Takeaways from the MLK NHS include a booklet entitled, 101 Tools for Tolerance Simple Ideas for Promoting Equity and Celebrating Diversity and a Pledge Card asking visitors to Respect all people; live a life of loving, not hating; choose patience over anger, non-violence over force; and actively promote freedom, justice and world peace.

Ebenezer Baptist ChurchFUN (9/10)
It was wonderful to see so many people of all colors, age and nationality remembering and learning about the incredible life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. together.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (10/10)
Absolutely. This is a must-see National Parks destination as well as one of America’s treasures.

TOTAL 64/80

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Plains, Ga.
Visited: December 19, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 129 of 353
NPS Website; Maranatha Baptist Church

Plains High aka Carter NHS Visitor Center

WHAT IS IT?
Numerous buildings in Plains, Georgia, the boyhood and current home of the 39th U.S. president, Jimmy Carter. The Site celebrates Carter’s life as well as life in a typical rural southern town.

BEAUTY (3/10)
Buildings are simple and only as large as they need to be. The few blocks of Main Street barely put a dent in the fields that surround the town. Plains, Georgia has added a few placards to the roads and a few Secret Service men to their population. Other than that, there is nothing to distinguish this quiet town from others nearby. In many ways the town is just like its most famous native son; what you see is what you get.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (6/10)
Jimmy Carter led his improbable runs to Georgia State Senate (1963), Georgia Governor (1970) and president of the United States (1976) here in Plains, Georgia. Carter’s amazing success demonstrates that idealism and good people have a place in politics.

In 1961, when apparently defeated in his initial foray into public office, Carter refused to admit defeat. He and his family braved death threats and the Southern status quo by showing that the Georgia Senate race had been overwhelmingly fraudulent. Many of the long-time incumbent’s votes had come from deceased citizens, voting in alphabetical order. The election results were overturned. President Carter has never stopped fighting for electoral fairness worldwide.

Jimmy Carter currently lives at the western city limit of Plains, Georgia but his home is only about 800 yards from the small town’s center. Preserved at the center is the Plains Depot, the train stop from where his presidential campaign ran.

Waiting for JimmyCROWDS (9/10)
Who could be as excited as we were to see President Carter? Every other person filling the Church and later browsing the old school building/Visitor Center and strolling the main street of Plains. The Church greeter recognized us at the Peanut Patch, a small store downtown. The town of Plains doubles in size almost every Sunday. Visitors are welcomed with open arms and free samples.

It is not often that we feel such a sense of camaraderie with our fellow park visitors. There was a palpable excitement and joy in the air. We believe Jimmy and Rosalynn bring it every time they come home.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site is the city of Plains, Georgia. Plains is 10 miles west of Americus, GA on US 280. Another NPS site, Andersonville NHS, lies 20 miles northeast of Americus. Both sites can be visited in one day. One long, emotional day.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5)
Each of Carter’s 19 books were for sale, including his newest, Sharing Good Times. Most could also be purchased in an audio or large print version. All come with an autograph request form.

Site MuralSome books seemed out of place until you looked harder. Why is Mattie Stepanek’s Journey Through Heartsongs here? Carter was a hero to Mattie, a young poet and disabilities advocate who dreamed of being a peacemaker, just like President Carter. Mattie passed away last year from a rare form of muscular dystrophy but not before his hero wrote the Forward to his collection of poems.

Each book is here for a reason. Browsing them, one can see the extent of President Carter’s touch and influence on the world far after his presidency concluded.

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is free. One may give a donation at the Maranatha Baptist Church, but it is not required. We are a little embarrassed to say just how many free samples of fried peanuts and peanut brittle we sampled at the Peanut Patch.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
Little known fact: some Rangers rotate among Sites. This is the second time we have spoken with a Ranger and walked away wondering where we had seen him before.

There were two Rangers at the Visitor Center. One or two more may have helped with the post-Church rush which filled the school lobby.

TOURS/CLASSES (10/10)
The Jimmy Carter NHS Visitor Center is located in his and Rosalynn’s old High School. The building itself is a part of the Site. The displays are terrific, especially the touch screen computer where the president and first lady answer questions from grade school children. The Charles Kuralt-narrated film recounting the early life of Jimmy Carter is well done.

President CarterThe highlight of the Jimmy Carter NHS is found in the Maranatha Baptist Church, another building that the Site preserves. Nearly every Sunday, President Carter teaches Bible study at 10:00 a.m. Click here for his schedule. He missed a December lesson because he was in Mozambique certifying their second democratic election and will missed last Sunday’s talk because he was in Palestine on the same mission.

Get to church by at least 8:30; the pews only seat 300 and half are reserved for church members. His talk was incredibly moving. He intertwined the message of the Gospel with his amazing life experience and knowledge all the while never forgetting to flash his well-known grin.

President Carter radiates a feeling of love throughout the audience. A couple behind us had traveled the previous week from their home in Tallahassee to the Sunday bible lesson. They were so touched that they had to return. If we lived nearby, we would do the same.

FUN (10/10)
This felt like a once in a lifetime experience even though President Carter teaches as often as he can.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (9/10)
It is hard to believe that a former U.S. president and Nobel Peace Prize award winner makes himself available to the public on a weekly basis for the humble task of preaching the Gospel in a tiny Baptist church. Find your way to Plains, Georgia on a Sunday while you can. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter are American treasures.

TOTAL 61/80

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