Thursday, September 27, 2012

At the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site

In January of last year, the girls and I did a short study of Martin Luther King Jr. Our brief study went really well, and studying Civil Rights through the lens of Martin Luther King Jr. seemed like a doable (ie. less frightening) way to introduce the subject, which is one that I do want the girls to know about, however young they are. I lecture them often about privilege and gratitude and volunteerism and responsibility (especially in a homeschool context, since Willow is going through a phase of feeling very ungrateful about the privilege of homeschooling, and very reluctant to work through its responsibilities, and I am really struggling with helping her through it), and I'm always looking for real-life illustrations to help make such vague concepts clearer to them, occurring as they do on the global level, as well as in our tiny home.

This summer we've done a much longer, much more detailed study of Martin Luther King Jr., culminating in the morning that we took off from our drive home from Florida to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site right in our overnight stop of Atlanta, Georgia:
Martin's boyhood home
 All of us (except for Sydney, but she can be pacified simply by being carried by Daddy!) really enjoyed the tour through Martin Luther King Jr.'s boyhood home, inside of which I was not permitted to take photographs (sigh). Few of the home's original furnishings remain, but the National Park Service used King's family as a resource when purchasing replacements--the family chose antiques that were identical, as closely as possible, to what they actually did own, so it's a very careful recreation.

The tour guide was terrific, too, and I learned a LOT of new information, such as the fact that although the King family's neighborhood was segregated, it was by no means ghettoized--families of all income levels lived there, as you can easily see by look at the historic homes along the street, ranging from the very small to the very large. Some of the homes are still privately owned today, and some are rental homes owned by the National Park Service, all with strict guidelines about preserving the homes' exteriors, of course. I spent a while fantasizing about moving to Atlanta with the family and living in one of these rental homes--I still might do it!

The King Center was a lot less showy, although I gather that they have an impressive collection of artifacts off exhibit (I wouldn't be surprised if they're working towards a major renovation). I was very excited to see King's Nobel Peace Prize displayed among some of his other awards--

--and the displays of some of his personal effects, such as the suitcase that he packed to take to Memphis on the trip during which he was murdered, and his minster's robes, were touching.

Willow spent nearly the last dregs of her spending money here, purchasing one of those little rubber bracelet things with the saying "I Have a Dream" on it, and some retro candy. I purchased some postcards, a Civil Rights coloring book, a deck of Civil Rights flash cards, and a retro candy choice for each of the girls (Willow was pretty stoked to be able to show up her sister by purchasing MORE candy for herself, silly girl).

The weather was fine, and the walking around the historic neighborhood was just the thing to stretch our legs before we began our long, LONG drive home that day:
Dr. and Mrs. King's lovely memorial




I don't know if the girls necessarily have a larger grasp of Civil Rights after our visit, but I'm certain that they now see Martin Luther King Jr. as a real person, and most particularly as the little boy whom our tour guide so evocatively described during our house tour, the little boy who broke his sisters dolls on purpose, who liked to play board games and listen to stories on the radio, whose favorite place in the house was the kitchen. A few days after we got back home, we were driving across town and Sydney cracked open another picture book about King that I'd checked out from the library.

"Look, Momma!", she called out, holding open the first page of the book to show me, and there was the wallpaper in Martin Luther King Jr.'s house! Many of the illustrations in My Brother Martin, written by King's sister, are clearly taken from the rooms on the birthhome tour, with details down to the fireplace screen and the old-fashioned stove and the pattern on the family's china plates laid out on their dinner table--all stuff that the kids had noticed at the time. And then Sydney got to the pages in which a childhood Martin's little friends have to tell him that they can't play with him anymore, and the look on little Martin's face is so vivid, and SO sad, that Sydney actually cried out. She may not understand racism, or understand Civil Rights, but being excluded by her playmates for no good reason--that's something that ANY kid understands. And if Civil Rights means that it's not okay to exclude others, then she's all for it, whether or not she totally gets the point of the Birmingham Jail or the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

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