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Hand in HandHappy Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Day. Wait a sec, I don’t have off work until Monday. What gives? Well, today is his official born on date, January 15, 1929. He would have been 79. What should you do to celebrate, either today or Monday?

Today has already happened so there’s little wiggle room there. But on Monday you could go to his National Historic Site in Atlanta! It’s encompasses terrific museum, Dr. King’s birth home, and the the Ebenezer Baptist Church.

We really enjoyed our time there amidst the healthy crowds and exciting energy. 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. So even if you can’t travel to Atlanta, remember Dr. King’s message of togetherness, hope, and promise for a more peaceful future.

Click Here to Read More about Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.

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Part of National Mall and Memorial Parks
Washington, D.C.
Visited: July 14, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 308 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website


Lincoln Memorial Full Frontal

WHAT IS IT?
The instantly recognizable white Georgia marble neo-Classical monument dedicated to our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

BEAUTY (8/10)
At the National Mall western end, the Lincoln Memorial stands, a steadfast Greek Temple that emanates greatness and elicits reflexive, earnest tribute. The ascent up its three flights of stairs builds the anticipation, heightens the spirit and takes you to the most fitting tribute any American president has yet to achieve.

Inside Abraham Lincoln sits. His position recalls an imagined recreation of the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Lincoln’s recreation is no less godlike, but instead of the bombast and tyranny of his mythical counterpart, he sits with the wisdom of Athena. Lincoln’s famed melancholy is no more; he sits with self-assuredness. His gaze is more complicated; it speaks of hope and pride but also shows wariness and fear.

Despite its grand scale and lofty symbolism, the Lincoln Memorial is not triumphalist. It shows a man with flaws and sensitivities. It speaks to a hopeful future accompanied by thought and a humble character. It speaks to what America should be.

Penny for Your ThoughtsHISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10)
The Lincoln Memorial has seen historic significance rare to most memorials and monuments. Since soon after its dedication, the Memorial has played host to countless concerts, political demonstrations and speeches. Perhaps the only speech to rival the legend of Lincoln’s own Gettysburg Address occurred here: Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. On that August 28, 1963 day, the Lincoln Memorial grounds served as the centerpiece for the one of the most important (and among the largest) political rallies ever to occur, the 1963 March on Washington.

CROWDS (9/10)
There were a lot of people here! The mass of humanity that was milling about, ascending and descending the stairs and waiting patiently to be photographed next to Lincoln’s knees were all in celebratory, dare we say, jubilant moods despite the heat of the day. This classic American landmark’s grand size can handle all comers with ease.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
The easiest way to visit is via the Tourmobile® Sightseeing buses. Your $20.00 per adult all day ticket drops you off in front of the both the Lincoln Memorial, the nearby Vietnam Veterans and Korean Memorials and every other National Mall-area attraction.

The Lincoln Memorial is located on the western edge of the National Mall, just south of a dense conglomeration of federal offices. The more adventurous (or masochistic) tourist could find a metered street parking space among this mess of barricaded one-ways streets, diplomat-only meters and tricky diagonal intersections but we do not recommended it.

The nearest D.C. Metro stop is Foggy-Bottom-GWU, located three-quarters of a mile to the north at the intersection of 23rd and I Streets. This downhill concrete walk always seems longer than the distance indicates.

The President’s KneeCONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5)
Oddly inadequate. The Lincoln Memorial bookstore is tucked away in the inner right corner of the Memorial’s mezzanine. It is far too small to handle its crowd, especially when a baby stroller is pushed into the mix. Shelf space is divvied up between the Lincoln Memorial and other nearby bookstore-less sites, including the Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Memorials. A few books on civil rights and more recent military involvements are scattered in there for good measure.

We could find no rhyme or reason for the bookstore offerings or why some titles were chosen over others. We couldn’t even find a cool magnet. Those looking for substantial information on our 16th president will do much better at the Ford’s Theater NHS.

COSTS (4/5)
Not a penny to see the front and back of a penny.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (1/5)
The area in and around the Lincoln Memorial’s circular perimeter appeared to be a Ranger-free zone. We saw security guards, bookstore clerks and construction workers doing Memorial restoration but no Rangers. Even the tiny downstairs Lincoln museum appeared to be un-staffed.

TOURS/CLASSES (4/10)
Park literature states that there are Park Ranger programs every day at all the National Mall Memorials. Somehow, we missed them all. We understand that the D.C. experience is primarily visceral; it is about being overwhelmed with larger than life statues and legendarily great men.

The Lincoln Memorial needs no elaboration and no educational help. Old Abe sits on his throne and regally looks over the capital city of the country he reunited (and broke apart according to some). His greatest words, the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, flank him on either side, in their full glory and in complete context.

That is why the Lincoln Museum, located beneath the Memorial, is disappointing. The Museum consists mostly of granite-etched Lincoln quotes regarding equality, freedom, emancipation and the Union. These quotes are mangled and taken out of context in a misguided attempt to portray Lincoln as a fiery abolitionist. The museum exhibits reveal more about the curators and their opinions about Lincoln than Lincoln himself.

Side View FUN (10/10)
From his perch, Abe Lincoln enjoys the best and most classic view in Washington, D.C. He overlooks his own reflecting pool, the new World War II Memorial, the soaring obelisk Washington Monument, the National Mall and finally the U.S. Capitol. The vista is stirring at all times and in all seasons. The views and the history will infuse strong patriotic emotions into even the most cynical of Americans. The Lincoln Memorial is a resolute reminder of the positive strength of both humanity and the self.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (10/10)
The Lincoln Memorial is Michael’s favorite place in Washington D.C. Every time he walks up its steps he feels the same rush of expectation and the same flood of emotions. It is a pilgrimage site and a place to give secular thanks and blessings not just to Mr. Lincoln but to Dr. King and the pioneers of the many human rights organizations that have rallied here. The Lincoln Memorial is a quintessential American icon and a must-see destination for all Americans.

TOTAL 60/80

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part of Shiloh National Military Park
near Corinth, Miss.
Visited: February 13, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 153 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Fountain SculptureWHAT IS IT?
A newly opened Museum dedicated to explaining both the April 1862 Battle of Shiloh and the April and May Union siege and capture of Corinth, Mississippi, an important railroad center.

BEAUTY (6/10)
The Interpretive Center’s ads, found in all the tourist publication promote the “$9.5 million facility” that has “5,000 square feet of exhibit space” and an “open courtyard with a water feature”. The ads’ spartan word choice does not do to the Museum justice.

The Site’s is located across from a school and near the train tracks on the outskirts of town. We openly wondered why they would put a tourist attraction such an unappealing area. Closer inspection revealed that the red brick Museum is built on and around Battery Robinett, one of the Union’s primary defense positions. The Building incorporates the slope of the earthwork and mimics its shape.

The path from the parking lot to the entrance travels up switchbacks that are littered with bronzed Civil War-related items that have been paved into the walkway. The exhibit space is fantastic, incorporating large amounts of wood, colorful easy to read displays and lots of open space.

The “water feature” is actually an interpretive sculpture. The design is a minimalist representation of American history from the Revolution until 1870. It begins with a marble slab inscribed with the Preamble to the Constitution. The water flows steadily from the words and down a short staircase until it reaches a line marked 1861.

There it meets stacked bricks that represent over 50 Civil War battles. The bricks vary in size given the number of casualties suffered in the respective battle. At first, they appear to be haphazardly placed until you realize that they are in chronological order and curve to demonstrate Union or Confederate success.

The bricks alter and separate the water’s path until a year marked 1865. When the battles end, the water flows back into the same pool. It is simple, moving and inspired. If only it were that easy.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10)
Why are both the Battle of Shiloh and the Siege of Corinth important to American history and the outcome of the Civil War? An exhibit posits this exact question and answers it in convincing detail. They were the first battles with large casualties. The War was not going to be short and easy. Corinth was a major southern railroad hub. The Union siege and capture further isolated the Confederate west from supplies and material help.

Corinth was the site of the Civil War’s largest Contraband Camp, a self-contained community populated by former slaves who had escaped their masters and found their way on to Union controlled soil. The federal government dealt with the issue by calling the escaped slaves contraband of war and allowing them to remain in the hands of the Union army.

Smaller contraband camps existed throughout the South. Corinth’s was the only one to move beyond temporary tent dwellings. Small cabins were constructed. A school and church were built. Years before the Emancipation Proclamation, black Americans received their first glimpse of life as a free individual. The original Contraband Camp has been unearthed and plans for an on-site memorial are underway.


Seven Screen Film
CROWDS (6/10)
We were the only people in the Museum on a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon. There was plenty of space and exhibits to accommodate and entertain entire regiments of Civil War re-enactors.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
Corinth is no longer the railway and commercial center that it was in 1862. It is 46 miles north of Tupelo and the four-lane Interstate-esque U.S. Route 78. The closest major city is Memphis, located 100 miles to the west. For tourism purposes, the most important nearby destination is Shiloh NMP, located a winding 20 miles to the north.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5)
Incredible Civil War bookstore. What else is new?

COSTS (4/5)
The Corinth Interpretive Center, unlike its parent Site the Shiloh NMP, is absolutely free.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5)
Even though the Interpretive Center is designed to be completely self-guided, there were two Rangers on duty to help.

TOURS/CLASSES (9/10)
The film about the Battle of Shiloh is indicative of Corinth’s stellar educational power. The film is shown in a small amphitheater with only one short bench for seats. Seven monitors tall and thin monitors are placed equidistant horizontally and stretch the limits of your peripheral vision. The middle screen primarily shows a map highlighting troop positions at specific times of the battle. The six other televisions rotate between re-enactors, drawings and Civil-War era photography.

Somehow, the multimedia presentation avoids the bug-eyed madness of CNN Headline News or the Bloomberg Channel. The videos are placed far enough apart that you can focus on only one the entire length of the film and go back to the map when necessary. The grounding force of the map is helpful. You always know where the Battle is talking place, where the fight is occurring.

FUN (8/10)
We claim not to be Civil War buffs, but nine separate Park Sites in ten days probably proves otherwise. Still, we left Shiloh NMP confused and ornery. Shiloh’s horrible film and long driving tour through monumented woods did not help us figure either out what had actually happened or why the Battle holds such an indelible historical presence.

We had a collective bad attitude and did not want to go to yet another Civil War Museum. The Corinth Interpretive Center was so well done that we left with our Shiloh questions answered, a greater understanding of Grant’s War in the West and smiles on our faces.

Michael at a DisplayWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
Should the in-depth educational part of Shiloh NMP be on the Battlefield’s grounds instead of 20 long miles south, in an urban setting and across the Tennessee state line? Probably not. The hard feeling between the two Sites is palpable. The Shiloh NMP Visitor Center does not advertise the Corinth Site. Corinth is not on the Park Brochure. Our request for directions was only grudgingly obliged with a small mimeographed sheet of paper that the Rangers kept behind their desk.

We know that everyone wants a piece of the lucrative Civil War tourist trade. Just ask Stephen Reed, the mayor of our fine hometown. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania just opened our own Civil War Museum. Sleepy Corinth, Mississippi projects that its Museum will bring in 250,000 people per year. Last year Shiloh NMP had 350,000 guests; Corinth’s projection is reasonable.

The Corinth Interpretive Center is a must see on any western Civil War itinerary. It is the best educational Civil War Site we have visited to date and is an essential stop before you travel to the Shiloh Battlefield. There is a good mix of esoteric paraphernalia and analysis (for the hardcore buff) and easy to understand explanations, charts and videos (for his loyal companion).

TOTAL 59/80

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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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Topeka, Kans.
Visited: August 4, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 70 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Hallway at Brown v. Board SchoolWHAT IS IT?
A museum that commemorates the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court decision that made segregation in public schools illegal. The NHS is located in the Monroe Elementary building, the location of one of the five schools whose segregation case was consolidated in the NAACP argument.

BEAUTY (4/10)
Monroe Elementary School is an Italian Renaissance two-story red brick and limestone building. Its beauty and power comes from its representative nature. It could look like the old Lemoyne High School building on Market Street, it could look like the Progress Elementary School where Michael’s mom teaches kindergarten. It could look like any school built in the early 20th century anywhere in America. But it isn’t. It is the school where the first battle against legal segregation was won.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (9/10)
May 17, 2004 marked the 50th Anniversary of the Supreme Court decision as well as the opening day of the Monroe Elementary School Museum. A display panel in an exhibit’s flipbook said that the Topeka School District did not fully integrate until 1999. A staggering thought.

CROWDS (6/10)
We wished that there were been more people at the Site, but realize that Topeka, Kansas is not an A+ tourist destination.

Had there been a large crowd, some of the exhibits could have caused discomfort. A few interactive displays ask the viewer to give their opinions regarding touchy race-related issues, like affirmative action, in not so anonymous ways. Michael was about to enter the Expressions and Reflections room while a group of women were expressing their opinions on a magnet board. They were the only people in that room. When Michael opened the door, they backed away, not willing to own up to their thoughts.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
The Site is less than a mile from Interstate 70, Exit 362C. There is no parking lot; you park on the one block stretch of Monroe Street between 15th and 17th Streets. 17th Street was under construction and completely torn up so we had to make a precarious three-point turn on Monroe to exit which is not a good thing because Monroe is a one-way street. We did not realize it was one-way until three blocks later when we were faced with a wave of cars coming towards us. Hopefully things will change before some tourists gets themselves hurt.

The Site introductory room is located in the old Auditorium. Five seven-minute films show the history of segregation and racism in five different sectors of society: War and National Service, How Segregation Came to Be, Civil Rights, Resistance and Education. The multi-media films are impressive but have one large drawback, the screens are placed far too high and at a precipitous angle. We moved on after two films because our necks were sore from looking upward.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
The Site has a terrific selection of books regarding the Brown v. Board court case and the legal struggle for civil rights. The remainder of the bookstore, like the museum, spreads itself a little thin. It tries, but does not have a definitive selection of civil rights and African American history books and videos. Some notable books are missing, like Taylor Branch’s Pulitzer Prize winning Parting the Waters. A few PBS VHS tapes are for sale but not the definitive Eyes on the Prize series. (We later learned that Eyes on the Prize is no longer sold becuase of copyright troubles regarding the soundtrack. This legal snafu is tragic for the scores of Americans who won’t see this definitive documentatary.)

Monroe ElementaryCOSTS (4/5)
The site is free.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (2/5)
A volunteer at the Site’s entrance greeted us. She said there would be a Ranger in each room who could answer any of our questions. We did not see any Rangers during our three hour visit except the one in the Gift Store and the one retuning from lunch. We are willing to give the brand new Site the benefit of the doubt.

TOURS/CLASSES (8/10)
The Site consists of four rooms that enjoy a wide variant of success: Education and Justice; Race and the American Creed (the Auditorium); The Legacy of Brown v. Board; and Expressions and Reflections.

The Education and Justice room is tremendous and filled with interactive displays. The room tackles the specificities and immediate results of the Supreme Court Case with great depth using a variety of learning methods. The Education and Justice Room is the essence of the NHS. We found the other three rooms to be a bit extraneous.

We spent nearly two hours in Education and Justice Room alone. We watched the five ten-minute documentaries that separately explained the five cases of segregation and the one film that explained how the NAACP combined and argued them before the Supreme Court. A touch-screen computer put you in a segregated classroom and forced you to make decisions as to how you would right the situation.

In order to get to the other half of the Education and Justice Room we had to walk through the Site’s most commanding and dramatic exhibit: a long narrow corridor with large screens mounted on its walls. On the screens is stock 50’s and 60’s era footage of threatening whites protesting integration. They scream racial epithets and other hateful words over the speakers mounted on the corridor’s low ceiling. Bravery and struggle take on new meanings.

FUN (7/10)
It is exciting to visit a new site. This one is a mere two months old. Although still in its infancy, most of the site’s interactive displays are ready for use and use we did. We spent hours watching the Brown v. Board Supreme Court case’s evolution in the Education and Justice Room. We appreciated the use of the school building, complete with miniature water fountains. The school setting was conducive to learning. We walked the halls and changed classes as we moved from one display to the next. Like school, we liked some more than others.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
This was definitely the highlight of our day in Topeka. There is construction occurring outside the school – perhaps for a parking lot? There are still some empty shelves in the bookstore, ample space on the first floor and an entire second floor that could be put to use for future exhibits. A trip today to the Brown v. Board NHS is worthwhile. We think exhibits in this site could expand and be enhanced over time. It will be interesting to see it grow.

TOTAL 54/80

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