Atlanta: Sweet Auburn

Last month, I visited Atlanta for several days for a conference with AmeriCorps and Hunger Free America, which focuses on highlighting economic inequalities in the nation, and works to find solutions to end hunger and poverty through local programs. Visiting Atlanta was poignant especially after knowing the facts: it’s economy earnings rank 68th among 100 American cities, the unemployment rate is higher than the national unemployment rate, and the state minimum wage is $5.15 an hour, lower than the federal standard. Atlanta is a lovely city and deserves more attention.

On my first night there I walked to the Skyview Ferris Wheel with a couple of the AmeriCorps members, as white and red lights illuminated the blocks from far away. We entered the nearby park and saw kids, families, couples walking or sitting on benches. It was by no means deserted, but it also wasn’t a loud boisterous space. Instead people were out and about on a Wednesday night. There was a water fountain with lights, where water would shoot up from the floor, during intervals, while kids ran around tempting the water to splash them.

Later we saw a group filming a protest video for the BET awards.They filmed five women dressed in 70s inspired outfits with flair jeans, Afros and wavy hats, walking back and forth with a cool attitude like they owned the block (snaps). They looked beautiful gliding down the street, strutting their stuff.

BET awards filming
Image: Cynthia Via


The next morning I woke up early to visit MLK’s birth home. While walking I came upon a mural that read, No More Hunger. The sun rose up over it, giving significance to my walk. Next stop was a small park with a large sculpture of John Wesley Dobbs, an African-American civic and political leader who once said, “Bucks, ballots and books are the key to African-American freedom.” Visitors can look through his eyes and see Auburn Avenue, which was once the most active business area. Inside the park some homeless people were sleeping on the side benches. Farther ahead was a large burgundy church. In front the sign read: The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Site. Across the street was the original Ebenezer Baptist Church.

John Wesley Dobbs looking down Auburn Avenue.
Image: Cynthia Via

I kept walking until I reached the resting place of Coretta Scott King and MLK. The entrance was filled with flowers and bushes. The birds were bright and chipper as I walked towards the rectangular pool with a gravesite sitting above. It was large gray tombstone with delicate script lettering. The pool gave off a sky blue color, and it seemed to go on forever. The two were floating above a blue sea. Over by the shrubs there was a fire pit with a sign that read: “The light that never dies.”  I kept walking and saw a security guard at the end of the pool. I wanted to take a photo of his meditative stance but I told myself it was a private moment that belonged to him. I bade the old man farewell and I went to find MLK’s birth home. One of the plaques near the small historic homes, painted in soft blues and gray, across the Ebenezer Baptist Church, said when King was little he would be seen dribbling a basketball in front of his house.

Martin Luther King Jr. birth home
Image: Cynthia Via

I noticed a sign attached to fence that read, “Martin Luther King Jr.’s  birth home is closed for renovations,” blocking the path leading to a yellow house with black trimmings. It was a soft yellow that contrasted against the clear sky. I was content with taking photos and walking around MLK’s old stomping grounds. He was here once, and now I was here in the Auburn neighborhood, known as “Sweet Auburn.” By now the sun was fully out and I could feel the humidity on my skin.


The next day while walking in a nearby neighborhood, I began sweating and my book bag was getting sticky. I saw an ice cream shop not far from me. It was called Jake’s Ice Cream. It was a cute little, white and blue establishment with bikes stuck to the store sign.  To the left I saw a bike path extending down a corridor with bikes coming in and out. I walked on the path for a few minute noticing the small shops with inconspicuous names. The building itself looked old and it was constructed mostly of dark brown and red bricks, but the verandas and the signs were new. I’m not sure how far the bike or hiking path extended. I may have seen a sign that read, Atlanta Beltline.  I concluded that this neighborhood was be gentrified. I supposed it had once been a manufacturing area. Most of the buildings heading down the streets to the tunnel were factories.

Image: Cynthia Via
Image: Cynthia Via

I walked towards King Rd. and I saw a bridge and underneath was a tunnel where cars drove through. There was a girl filming a guy bouncing, rapping and dancing, a few steps outside the entrance of the Krog Tunnel. “I would film my video here too,” I thought. The tunnel had a walkway on each side. I was on the right side, and below cars passed quickly. Two tube rails on the edge prevented people from easily jumping to the cars below. The inside walls were fully covered in drawings, graffiti of purples, pinks and greens; statements and faces mixed together. You could not find an area that was bare unlike the outside where the graffiti was spread out. I took some photos, trying to find a drawing of a face under the light. It wasn’t completely dark. There was a lot of light from the sun that kept both sides lit but the in the middle, it grew darker.

At the end of the tunnel, the street continued, diverging into two streets with suburban-looking houses.  I crossed to the other side of the tunnel. I saw an image of dumpy and hill pasted the outside of the tunnel. They were dressed as rodonald mcdonald. The fast food candidates of America. In one of the columns it read, “Why don’t you dance?” The painting below had dripped off and you couldn’t make out the rest of the words.

There was,  “I write because no one listens!” in big circular pink letters. I though if I left the tunnel, I would walk into another world. Reaching the light on either side meant time traveling. I eventually had to say goodbye to Atlanta. I walked at a quicker pace, passing a blue cat painted on the side of a warehouse. I was back on familiar grounds. I entered the ice cream shop and bought a scoop of limoncello. I wanted to take the bus back to my hotel. The store had enticing small tables, chairs and decoration on the wall; the kind that would be proper for a dollhouse. I decided to walk instead of hide from the sun. They had a dusty couch outside where I could sit, but I decided to keep moving since my flight was not far off. I walked faster trying to my eat my white, yellowish ice cream, while the sun threatened to melt it as I tried to hurry so I could catch the bus. I remember someone posing a question to me during the week: “Would you rather have ice cream in the summer or in the winter?”



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