Before our class left campus, Professor DeLaney showed us an image of Dr. King’s tomb and said that its extravagance stands in contrast to his ideals. As I entered the King Center in Atlanta, this discrepancy was in the forefront of my mind. The first stop, the Visitor Center, did not stand out to me as overtly in conflict with the ideals of Dr. King. It was an informative space, focusing on the different parts of the Civil Rights movement in which King was involved. The museum space is an effective means of educating visitors about King and his actions toward racial equality, while not placing too much focus on him as an individual. I suspect that he would prefer this type of museum to one that told his story without considering the larger context. When we left the Visitor Center, I was very curious to see the tomb myself and come to my own conclusion about its embodiment of Dr. King’s philosophies.
After seeing both the tomb and his birth home, I have to agree with Professor DeLaney. The tomb itself is very large and imposing, and underneath Dr. King’s name there is a quote from one of his speeches. To my understanding of King, he would not have wanted a quote of his own on his tomb. A quote from Gandhi, or even from the Bible, may have been more true to King’s spirit and the causes he dedicated his life to. The pool that surrounds King’s tomb appeared rather tasteless to me. The bottom of it was painted blue, which reminded me more of a fountain where children play, than a final resting place of a well-respected figure of American history. Something much simpler would have done a far superior job honoring King’s legacy. I also think that it was wrong to move King from his original resting place at his alma mater, Morehouse College, to this grandiose exhibit. If he wished to be interred at Morehouse College, he should have remained there. It is disappointing that the King family was so consumed with a need for extravagance that they failed to honor his ideals. The transformation of Martin Luther King’s birth home into a museum also concerned me. While it was fascinating to see the house where he was born, I think that Dr. King would be opposed to its existence as a National Park Site. I would expect him to care more about people understanding his work, and seeing its effects, rather than seeing the structure in which he was born.
These sites cheapen the legacy left behind by Dr. King, and they are not in line with his humble nature. This became very apparent to me after sitting in Ebenezer Baptist Church. In the church, audio of Dr. King’s last sermon played. In this sermon he speculated about his death and explicitly said he wanted to be remembered as a “drum major” of justice, peace and righteousness, not as someone who won the Nobel Peace Prize and countless other awards. The Visitor Center Museum was successful in preserving this memory, but the tomb and the birth home seemed to capitalize more on his fame than his noteworthy actions. I was slightly disappointed by the King Center as a whole, because I do not think that it completely respected who Martin Luther King, Jr. really was: a man who died while in Memphis for a sanitation workers march, not a man who sought recognition, fame and awards.