Each year — the third Monday in the month of January — marks the federal holiday recognizing the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his nonviolent campaign to end racial segregation in the United States during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
One of the most influential civil right leaders of our time, the Atlanta-born Baptist minister founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led the 1963 March on Washington where he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and won a Nobel Prize for peace in 1964. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, at the age of 39.
While King’s legacy is still alive and well today, some of the long-standing racial tensions and systems of oppression that he spent his life addressing are still present in the minds and lives of Black Americans nationwide.
Capital B Atlanta visited the Sweet Auburn Historic District — the birthplace of King — to speak with residents and tourists alike about what the civil rights leader’s legacy looks like in light of current barriers present in today’s society.
From embracing King’s legacy of nonviolence, and recognizing self-worth in the Black community to addressing police brutality, here’s what residents had to say.
Monet Jackson, 34, accountant, Midtown
“I feel like if Dr. King was here, he would still be working. It’s like we are as polarized as we have ever been when it comes to race in this country. We’re still dealing with police brutality, racial segregation, and racial inequities daily. I don’t think … Dr. King could have imagined we would still be fighting the same issues he gave his life for almost 60 years after his death.”
Annette Terry, 37, accountant, Reynoldstown
“When it comes to race, I try to follow Dr. King’s ways in my everyday life — addressing conflict with peace. Sometimes, that is easier said than done because the conflict is continuing to escalate. They are still lynching us, just in different ways without a noose. We’re still at the bottom and it’s tiring. But, they can’t get me down unless I let them. I like to think that is what Dr. King would do.”
Jordy Williams, 26, student, Houston, Texas
“I feel like you can still feel Dr. King in Atlanta. Being a Black person here means something so much more meaningful than I think we understand. There are still places in this country where being Black means living an exceptionally harder life. I haven’t experienced that here in Atlanta yet, and I think that has a lot to do with the history of Black leaders that have come out of this city. It’s definitely a driving reason why so many young Black people like myself are here now. Dr. King’s legacy, I think, plays a major role in making Atlanta into what it is today.”
Brian Evans, 40, warehouse manager, East Point
“I think it’s important we keep Dr. King’s legacy alive for the sake of our children. One day, I’ll be dead and gone but my kid still has to live on. It’s important that she knows that we matter as Black people … that she matters as a Black woman. Dr. King’s teachings are just as much about recognizing self-worth in the Black community as they are for advocating for our freedom. I don’t know if we found the freedom he was looking for just yet. But, that’s up to us to make sure our kids get what they deserve and what we didn’t. Just like Dr. King did for us.”
Deyana Morgan, 29, entrepreneur, Decatur
“I think as a city, we can do better. Dr. King is right from the heart of Atlanta but yet everyday, all you are hearing is how Black people are dying and hurting. Our community needs to unite more than ever, because we have a storm coming and it’s been brewing for so long with police brutality, inflation, COVID … it will be here before we know it. One of the reasons why Dr. King was the man he was because his community stood behind him and walked next to him in his time of need. That’s what we have to do, because it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”