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  • Leidy Padrino

The Walk I Never Knew I Needed

Atlanta, Georgia, home to Black excellence. From Black entrepreneurs and artists to the Civil Rights Movement, Atlanta has been known as a hub for the greatest leaders in the Black community for many generations. In late October 2023, I found myself in a conference in downtown Atlanta where I had the pleasure of meeting Ernie Suggs. Mr. Suggs is a journalist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who writes about race and culture. He has a long list of accolades including being the former national vice president of the National Association of Black Journalists. With Mr. Suggs as our guide, I embarked on what I thought would be a 30-minute walk but ended up being a three-hour stroll through history that I would never forget.


At first Atlanta seemed like a city much like any other, but after about 20-minutes of our walk we moved past the hotels and headed toward the heart of black history. As we walked down the streets, we could not make it past a block without having to stop to take in another historic site. The first place we stopped that made me catch my breath was The Atlanta Daily World. This is the home of the oldest black owned and operated newspaper, dating back to 1928.


We continued down the street where the Atlanta Daily World stands, and we began to see the deterioration of the buildings in the area. Buildings embellished with graffiti, voicing phrases like “No justice, no peace” and murals of great African American leaders like John Lewis. Many of these buildings would seem like foregone structures to the untrained eye, but woven into the streets were many gems, like the oldest barber shop in the city and the first Black owned bar. 


The next place we came across was one that played a very big role in the Civil Rights Movement, home to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which was led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Founded in 1957, this is where they coordinated the non-violent protests that marked the Civil Rights Movement. As I realized that I was walking the streets Dr. King walked, and standing in front of buildings he worked out of, I was on the verge of tears. I tried to take a second to gather myself, but that wasn’t possible because, just as we turned the corner, we found the Werd. 


The Werd is the first black owned Radio station in 1949. The owner of the Werd had his white friends purchase the place for him because Jim Crow laws did not allow him to buy it himself. Since the Werd was so conveniently located right by the SCLC, Dr. King would write notes with information about protests he needed to get out to the black community, and slid them under the door of the Werd so they could share the news on the radio.


As if that wasn’t impressive enough, this very building was also home to Madam C.J. Walker’s Beauty Shoppe. This place, now owned by Ricci de Forest, is a museum in honor of both businesses. Walking into this building is the equivalent of stepping into a  time machine and traveling back in time. Every corner of the ceiling and the walls was covered with the faces of Black artists like Ray Charles, Prince, Steve Wonder, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, Michael Jackson, and many more. Mr. Ricci has filled the room with amazing records which he acquired from a client who passed away. Mr. Ricci very graciously opened his doors to us and gave us each a gift to take home. When we asked  if he would accept a monetary donation, he directed us to his cotton tree. Since enslaved people had to pick cotton for their land owners, this was his ode to them.


I left here thinking this is it, this was the highlight of my trip. And then we stumbled onto the holy grail. Ebenezer Church, the church where Martin Luther King Sr. was a pastor, the place where Alberta Williams King was killed, and the place where Martin Luther King Jr’s funeral services were held. I never in my life thought I would be standing in front of THE Ebenezer Church. But Atlanta turned out to be the gift that kept on giving. 


Finally we made our way to our last two stops, the first of which was Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Park, where we saw the final resting place of both Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King. They lay side by side in a memorial pool. An eternal symbol that we can achieve great things through peace and equality.


As I made my way through the last blocks on our tour, we stumbled upon the house where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was born. Standing intact, surrounded by other homes modeling the exact aesthetic of Dr. King’s time, I was in awe. Dr. King’s grandfather purchased the home and they became the first family of color to move into the neighborhood. The white families did not like that and little by little started to move away. During this time Dr. King began to make white friends, until one day his mother told him he could no longer see them. At the time he was so young he couldn’t understand why.


I returned to the conference filled with so many emotions. I walked the streets where history was made and stepped inside buildings where leaders and activists gathered. I will never be able to thank Mr. Suggs enough for sharing the history of Atlanta with us that day. All I can think of is what would be of the world we live in today if Dr. Martin Luther King, wouldn’t have had a dream. Or if he simply kept his dream to himself. I hope those places I got to visit are there for generations to come, as a testament of the long fight this country had for freedom. So that we never take steps back when it comes to equal rights. And so that future generations can also take the walk they never knew they needed.


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