Design · Culture · Spirituality

Uncommon truths at the Martin Luther King Center

To celebrate our day off this past Monday, Kiera and I spent several hours at The King Center, also known as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. For me it was an incredibly meaningful way to spend a day that is usually marked by celebrations of violence, and an even better way to end a weekend that, in religious circles, is usually marked by the baptism of such violence.

The King Center was set up by Coretta Scott King, and is (I think) currently still owned by the King family. The basic elements of the place include a small theater, a circular exhibit full of quotes, photos, and such things detailing King’s life and the Civil Rights movement, a gift shop, a room full of items worn or owned by Martin and Coretta (including academic robes, Bibles, suits and dresses, manuscripts, etc.), a rose garden, a small exhibit about Ghandi, the church he pastored (currently being restored, apparently) and so on.

I had wanted to visit the King Center since moving to Atlanta, and am so grateful that we were finally able to do so. It’s a powerful thing to experience. The films that play in the theater are amazing stories of the King family, the power of nonviolence, the stories and sacrifices of amazing people like John Lewis (who I was unforgettably and fortunately able to meet last year) and Joseph Lowery who are still with us, and the various students and churches and marchers who changed the world.

The wonderful thing about the films is that they are passionately drenched in hope that we as their viewers will do the same with the injustices around us. Indeed, the whole place is a center for nonviolent social change, though it functions as a museum to a specific era. It does not allow us to keep our minds on the past, thinking that we have arrived at racial justice, or economic justice, or any of the other things that King sought. Each exhibit is full of timeless words and stories, speaking to us about our own time.

I went into this place not knowing whether or not this would be the case, and though I assumed that it would it surpassed my expectations. Today in America, Martin Luther King is used to sanction so many political and social causes and movements, and every year on his birthday his name is invoked in support of various actions of violence and oppression that are antithetical to everything that he stood for.

But not at the King Center. He stands in his own prophetic and challenging context there, and it is a beautiful one. No attempts are made to hide his passion for truly alleviating the suffering of the poor and oppressed among black and white in the United States, or for nonviolence in Vietnam, or any of the other things that we don’t like to talk about on January 15.

I feel like there are so few places that still allow Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak on his own terms, but I’m so thankful that Atlanta has one. Go to it, if you are ever here. It’s free.

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About the Designer

Jonathan Stegall is a web designer and emergent / emerging follower of Jesus currently living in Atlanta, seeking to abide in the creative tension between theology, spirituality, design, and justice.

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