Tour Atlanta’s Civil Rights History

Experience the legacy of locations that led to lasting change with this active tour of the city’s key cultural landmarks.

Atlanta is known as the cradle of the civil rights movement as community leaders leveraged the city’s culture of successful Black-owned businesses, progressive institutions and historically Black colleges to spark lasting social change during the ’60s. They prayed in the city’s churches, formed nonviolent organizations, and planned marches and peaceful protests that would lead to the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The physical legacy of that action? The preservation of a number of key locations for the movement, like churches and individual homes, as well as the creation of museums honoring it, giving visitors an opportunity to relive the historic work that changed the country. 

Though some companies offer various guided biking tours, many of the most noteworthy sites are within close proximity to each other, making this an ideal opportunity to explore the city’s civil rights history on your own.

Start your tour of the following must-visit locations at Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park, in the Sweet Auburn historic district. It has both public parking and restrooms at the visitor center (free admission). All the Sweet Auburn Historic District sites are within a few blocks of each other and easily walkable. If you’re on foot, Atlanta’s Streetcar can connect you from Sweet Auburn to Centennial Park, where you can walk to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and the Elbert P. Tuttle U.S. Court of Appeals Building ($1 a ride or $3 for a day-pass). Then, just take the Streetcar back to your vehicle at MLK, Jr. park. 

Sweet Auburn Historic District

The heart of the civil rights movement was Sweet Auburn, the city’s first African-American business district, and home to Martin Luther King, Jr. You could spend a day walking and visiting sites along Auburn Avenue alone. Here are three top stops within the district.

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park: This four-block area houses Dr. King’s childhood home and the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame, where you can see shoe prints of civil rights heroes such as Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall (450 Auburn Ave.).
  • Ebenezer Baptist Church: Auburn Avenue has a number of churches, but Ebenezer is where Dr. King, and his father, both served as pastor. It’s also where Dr. King’s 1968 funeral was held (407 Auburn Ave.).
  • John Lewis Mural: Commemorating the founding leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and one of the most active peaceful protestors of the civil rights movement, Lewis organized Freedom Rides and led the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. Lewis also spoke with Dr. King two years prior at the March on Washington, eventually going on to become a Georgia Congressman. You can see his mural at the corner of Auburn Avenue and Jesse Hill Jr. Drive, less than half a mile west from Ebenezer Baptist Church.  

Elbert P. Tuttle U.S. Court of Appeals Building 

This building was home to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals during the civil rights movement and played a critical role in American history as Judge Tuttle authored a number of court opinions that altered the course of our school systems and voting rights, most notably enforcing Brown v. Board of Education. The courthouse sits just west of the Sweet Auburn District, between Centennial Park and Woodruff Park (56 Forsyth St.). 

National Center for Civil and Human Rights

This museum draws a direct parallel from the U.S. civil rights movement to human rights struggles that are ongoing today. The museum also has a new exhibit that demonstrates how Dr. King inspired a generation of youth protests. The museum is located on the north side of Centennial Olympic Park, just past the Georgia Aquarium  (100 Ivan Allan Jr. Blvd.).

Paschal’s Restaurant

During the ’60s, Paschal’s served as a meeting place for the city’s civil rights leaders. The owners of the restaurant, the Paschal brothers, would even post bail for arrested protestors and serve them complimentary meals. They also served some of the best fried chicken in Atlanta. The location has moved, but the spirit and the fried chicken recipe are the same. Paschal’s isn’t within walking distance of the other spots on the tour, but it’s worth the short drive (180 Northside Dr.). 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.