As I do every time I am “away” at a conference, I walk with my camera to see what the locality offers in the way of interesting people and places. Having the opportunity to revisit Atlanta during the ASA meeting in August and participate in the creation of our new ASA Human Rights Section I strolled from the meeting venue in not so beautiful downtown Atlanta over to “Sweet Auburn”. Sweet Auburn was for decades the vibrant center of Atlanta’s distinguished African American community. Most people know it as the birthplace and home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who, in my humble opinion, was the leading exponent in the 20th Century of “human” rights for all Americans. The term used for “human” rights in the USA was “civil” rights to falsely separate the ills of American society from those suffered in the rest of the world.
Atlanta is the “home” of the Martin Luther King National Historic Site that among other things features his birthplace, The MLK Visitor Center, Ebeneezer Baptist Church, and the MLK Peace Center.
Unfortunately, most of the vibrant community of people that surrounded Dr. King is gone. There are some indications of some building preservation but a “home” is a place filled with people, not merely an assembly of construction materials.
On the way there, early in the morning, I passed by many people who looked as though they were in need in various ways. The downtown parks and public spaces were almost filled with folks. I was following a tourist map but needed more direction so I asked several people for help. When I got to Auburn Avenue, the commercial heart of the historic Black community, I was fumbling with the map and my camera when a fellow came over to me and offered to give me tour of “his” neighborhood and pointed out all the important places, including where “Martin” used to go for ribs.
We walked for a while as he recounted how the neighborhood used to be. At the end of his tour, in appreciation for his expertise and efforts, I offered him a few dollars which he politely accepted. I note that he did not ask for anything but was happy for the payment for his expert services rendered. I asked him where he lived and he said “around here.” I continued on my way and discovered an area that was undergoing intensive gentrification which gave me a another clue, besides the many vacant lots, as to why there was no longer much room for him in his own neighborhood. Below is a photo of Dannemann’s Cafe which was featured in an upscale city magazine as a proud example of how new people were “taking over” the Fourth Ward.
On my way back to the hotel walking on a different route, he called from across the street holding up a bag of groceries. He then walked down to the interstate highway underpass near where I had taken the photo below. It reminded me once again that all over the world most of the people we call “homeless” once had homes that were taken away from them. It also demonstrates the power of people to create new homes out of virtually nothing and, despite adversity, to maintain their dignity by showing visitors like me around what is left of “their” community.