The Sweet Auburn neighborhood is one of Atlanta’s semi-hidden gems and the perfect place for a Atlanta Civil Rights Tour. Many tourists/business travelers to the city don’t know about it. However, all locals know about the wonders of Sweet Auburn. It is a historically black neighborhood that was at one point one of the wealthiest African-American communities in the country. It is also the neighborhood where Martin Luther King Jr grew up, so it’s one of the major landmarks of the South.
However, Sweet Auburn is still a thriving area and there’s more to do here than only learn about history. You can also buy fine art, see the local architecture, and of course, chow down on some delicious food. (After all, Miss, this is the South.) Join me for an Atlanta Civil Rights Tour, and you too will be singing Sweet Auburn’s praises!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Atlanta with this Atlanta Civil Rights Tour. If you have another 24 hours in Atlanta after the Atlanta Civil Rights Tour, add this itinerary. Or you can add this itinerary. Maybe try this Atlanta Itinerary with Grant Park. Or you could include an Atlanta itinerary with Inman Park.
Disclaimer: The links on this website may contain affiliate links. This means that I may receive a commission if you decide to make any purchases using my affiliate links.
Atlanta Civil Rights Tour
Where to Stay?
Atlanta’s a big city with many different spread-out neighborhoods. But I like staying in Downtown Atlanta because it’s easy to reach many of the most popular attractions like the Sweet Auburn neighborhood right away. Also it’s near the subway system, aka MARTA. Everyone likes to rag on MARTA, but it’s still better than Atlanta traffic!
Anyway, that’s why I recommend Hyatt House Atlanta Downtown. The rooms are huge, there’s a free breakfast spread every morning with many options, and the staff has that friendly Southern charm. Also it’s in a great, safe location, so you can start this Atlanta Civil Rights Tour easily from here. You can’t do better in this price range.
Atlanta Civil Rights Tour
Morning: Downtown Southern Food Walk
I’ll be the first to admit that Downtown Atlanta is not the South’s most beautiful neighborhood. It’s not even the South’s twelfth most beautiful neighborhood. But there are plenty of fascinating things to see and delicious treats to eat if you know where to look.
But most tourists to the ATL will need some help finding Downtown Atlanta’s secret treasures. That’s why I recommend the Downtown Southern Food Walk with Atlanta Food Tours. This tour will take us through Downtown Atlanta and Sweet Auburn. And we’ll get to see a side of Martin Luther King Jr that most tourists don’t get to see–his foodie side! It’s one of the reasons an Atlanta Civil Rights Tour is so special.
I don’t want to spoil all the tea that Joy, our tour guide, spilled. But I will share with you…
approximately top 5: sweet auburn and downtown atl
The tour meets at Paschal’s, also known as the unofficial headquarters of the Civil Rights Movement, so it’s the perfect place to start an Atlanta Civil Rights Tour. Dr. King, who was born in Atlanta, was a big fan of soul food, which is why he loved meeting here. Joy told us that Martin Luther King Jr was actually born Michael King Jr. But his father changed both their names to Martin Luther King in tribute to the famous Protestant theologian.
I always enjoy a food tour with a theme, and on this tour one of the themes was how the Native Americans, African-Americans, and Anglo-Americans combined their foodways to make Southern food traditions. So on this plate we have grits, which come from the Native American use of corn, candied yams from West Africa, and fried chicken, which was probably brought to the South by the Brits. I enjoy a meal that’s delicious and educational at the same time!
2) the smoke ring
Of course no discussion of Southern food can be complete without barbecue! Georgia barbecue isn’t as famous as some other barbecue styles, but I love it. It tends to use a lot of pork and a tomato sauce that’s on the sweet side. At The Smoke Ring, we had barbecue pork belly served with mac and cheese, collard greens, and brunswick stew.
Brunswick stew is a popular tradition in Georgia. You make it with bbq pork, tomatoes, beans, and whatever veggies you have lying around. Joy told us that barbecue probably originated with the Native Americans and the West Africans brought the use of bitter greens to the South.
We washed all the delicious ‘cue down with a refreshing moonshine cocktail. (In case you don’t know, moonshine is unauthorized grain alcohol made in secret by the light of the moon.) Of course, the moonshine is the contribution of the Hillbilly-Americans. That’s just science.
3) arden’s garden
After all that soul food, bbq, and moonshine, we needed a little cleansing. What better place to do that than at Atlanta’s oldest juicery? Arden’s Garden was founded by the current owner’s mother. They serve an amazing variety of cold pressed juices.
We each sampled pineapple-ginger juice, veggie juice, and vegan kale cheese chips. Even the juice skeptics on the tour thought the kale chips were delicious! My favorite tasting was the pineapple-ginger juice because it really cleared out my sinuses. Joy did not explain if juice was brought by Native Americans, African-Americans, or the Brits. I assume it was brought by British pirates who were trying to avoid scurvy.
All of the remaining stops at the tour were at the impressive Curb Market located in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood. It was called the Curb Market in honor of the African American merchants who used to sell their goods here. Because of segregation, they were forced to sell their wares on the curb instead of in the market. Again, this is one of those stories you’d miss unless you took the time to take an Atlanta Civil Rights Tour. But now all are welcome to sell inside Curb Market!
Our first stop paid tribute to the British with a traditional meat pie. But these pies have a little twist because the store that sells them, Panbury’s, is actually run by South Africans. I’m not exactly sure what a South African pie would taste like. Would it have white wine and springbok meat? The ones we sampled were the Could Not Be More British steak and stout pie. I half expected Queen Elizabeth to pop her head out and give us the royal wave, that’s how British these pies were.
5) just add honey
What’s a trip to Sweet Auburn without a little sweet tea? There’s a reason they call sweet tea the house wine of the South. You can pretty much find it at every restaurant from Virginia to Mississippi. So we stopped at one of the many female-owned businesses in Atlanta, Just Add Honey, for some fragrant peach tea. (Peach being the Official State Fruit of Georgia.)
There’s no pressure to buy anything at Just Add Honey, but you do get a discount since you were on the food tour. I recommend their Sweet Auburn tea, made with red rooibos, almonds, and vanilla. There’s no caffeine, so it’s the perfect drink before bedtime!
6) metro deli
Got room for more soul food? Too bad if you don’t because it’s coming for you anyway. What these snacks from Metro Deli lack in color and texture, they make up for in flavor. It was founded by an Ethiopian couple who immigrated to Atlanta.
This stop was also our final history lesson of the tour. We had one hoecake made with corn, one cup of stewed beans, and one taste of banana pudding. One is Native American, one is West African, and one is British. But which is which? Joy made us guess, and now I will make you guess! But here’s a hint: if you want to know which dish is British, think about what would best help pirates prevent scurvy.
7) miss d pralines
Our last stop is heartwarming as well as delicious. Miss D’s Pralines, a stand in the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, is run by a woman who had to evacuate from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. She had nothing with her but a spoon and a pot. But she didn’t need more than that to start her own praline and popcorn business in Atlanta!
On the tour we sampled some of her famous triple popcorn. It’s made with three different flavors: cheese, butter, and caramel praline. I already knew that salty and sweet popcorn made a great combination. But adding praline to the caramel just kicked it up that extra notch of class. I came back later to buy one of her amazing praline candies as well. (PS. Some may wonder how I could eat another piece of candy after all the food on the tour. Yet I regret nothing.)
Atlanta Civil Rights Tour
Afternoon: Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Park
After the Downtown Atlanta Food Walk is over, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to the Martin Luther King Jr National Historical Park, located in Sweet Auburn. Dr. King grew up in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, and when you visit this park you can actually see the house where he was born. No Atlanta Civil Rights Tour is complete without stopping here.
But Martin Luther King Jr’s childhood home isn’t the only reason to visit this historic park. You’ll also get to see the famous Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King preached, a fine museum dedicated to his life, and many more historic buildings. I’ll point you to some of the most important with…
three facts: Atlanta Civil Rights Tour
1) how can you visit his birth home?
That depends on the day you visit. On most days, you need to reserve a house tour at the Visitor Center. However, when I visited they were having a special open house event, so there was no need to reserve a tour. Check the website for the National Historical Park before you go, just in case.
Picture taking is not allowed inside the home because it’s still owned by the King family. But the docents will answer any question you have about the family and the house. Dr. King, like the rest of his siblings, was born inside the actual house. (It was a different time, and children were more likely to be born at home than in a hospital.) He lived in this house in Sweet Auburn until he was 12 years old.
It’s a real trip to see where such a great man ate his cereal as a toddler. I know Dr. King was a flesh and blood human being, not a symbol, but I still can’t imagine him as a wiggly six year old. It’s like trying to imagine Abraham Lincoln as an awkward teenager or something.
2) was dr king in sweet auburn as an adult?
Indeed. The building that is most associated with Dr. King is the Ebenezer Baptist Church. Both King’s father and his grandfather on his mother’s side were pastors at this church. (King Sr. famously allowed the church choir to perform at the debut of the film Gone with the Wind.) After Dr. King moved back to Atlanta as an adult, he and his father were co-pastors at this church.
I was prepared to learn about Dr. King’s history as a minister at Ebenezer Baptist Church. I wasn’t prepared for the church’s tragic history. In the 1970s, after Dr. King was assassinated, Dr. King’s mother was killed by a crazed gunman inside Ebenezer Baptist Church. The gunman claimed to be acting out of hatred for Christianity, though his lawyers tried unsuccessfully to argue that he was insane. There is a memorial for those who were killed in the shooting inside Ebenezer Baptist Church.
My favorite hidden attraction at the National Historical Park is the Historic Fire Station No. 6. It has been in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood since 1894. But that’s not why it was famous. This fire station was the first racially integrated firehouse in Atlanta. The firehouse is now a free museum where you can learn more about the brave African-American men who served their city by putting out fires and riding in awesome red trucks.
My only problem is that I don’t know who’s protecting Sweet Auburn from fires now that this firehouse is overrun by tourists. This is a disaster waiting to happen! I tried to warn the docent at the museum that the firefighter in the building is a dummy and not a real person, but he just gave me a funny look. I hope he believed me! That dummy isn’t going to be any use if a mad arsonist comes to Atlanta! If they could bomb the Atlanta Olympics, who knows what they’ll do next time.
As you leave the National Historical Park, don’t miss the signs explaining Dr. King’s six principles of non-violence. Now that King is a universally revered figure, it’s easy to forget that his ideas about pacifism and economic justice were radical at the time–and remain radical to this day! I didn’t walk away from this Atlanta Civil Rights Tour thinking that Dr. King would be content with how the world is today.
24 Hours in Atlanta
Evening: Dinner at Gunshow
I don’t want to imply that this restaurant is part of an Atlanta Civil Rights Tour. It’s just a great restaurant. Gone are the days when the only kind of upscale restaurant you could find in Atlanta served overpriced steak to out of town businessmen on an expense account. Now the city is home to a plethora of trendy eateries. But no place is cooler or odder than Gunshow.
For starters, they serve a peanut butter and jelly cocktail called the After School Special. Sadly it doesn’t involve anyone doing too many drugs and jumping out a window. But it is delicious nonetheless.
Gunshow is like dim sum meets Master Chef. Each chef at the restaurant prepares a couple of different dishes each night. There’s a menu, but you don’t order off the menu. Instead, the chefs bring out their small plates one at a time and try to sell you on their dish. If you say yes, you eat it. But if you say no, you probably won’t get another crack at it.
This restaurant is the one and only time I’ve wanted a dining companion because we could have sampled the entire menu. As I am a solo diner, I only got through half the dishes. Probably none of these will be on the menu when you visit Gunshow, but at least I can give you an idea about what to expect.
approximately top 5: gunshow
2) sweet potatoes
3) veal sweetbreads
4) cheese bread
Finally it’s time for North Africa meets the South with a Berber spiced lamb belly served with squash and mint jelly. The Berbers are the ancient indigenous people of Morocco. Many still live in Morocco today, and they speak their own language, as well as Arabic. This perfectly cooked and beautifully spiced lamb took me straight back to Morocco in my mind.
This is probably the least Southern dish I tried, but the lamb-mint jelly combination is something you can find on many Southern table, especially around Easter.
That’s an Atlanta Civil Rights Tour
What would you do on an Atlanta Civil Rights Tour? Will you come to Gunshow with me so we can eat the entire menu? And will that dummy come to life and save Atlanta from the mysterious mad arsonist? Please leave your thoughts below!