Twenty one years ago I took my family to Atlanta, Georgia. It was the first time that they had been to America. After flying into Hartsfield Airport on a Friday evening, we picked up a hire car and headed south. The following day we reached Apalachicola in northern Florida.
We were there for three nights before heading down to Orlando to visit Disneyworld and Universal Studios. Then we drove up to Savannah, Georgia for three nights before getting back to Atlanta The circle was complete but there were two days left to get to know Atlanta itself.
One of the things I very much wanted to do was to visit Martin Luther King's grave and the nearby Ebenezer Chapel where he preached plus The Martin Luther King Junior Historical Center.
These sites are situated just east of Atlanta city centre. The distance is about a third of a mile and I decided we could easily walk it. No need for a bus or a taxi. Halfway there, I remember a plain clothes cop confronting us as he stepped out of a parking lot. He held up his police badge and seemed genuinely concerned for our safety, "What you folks doing here?"
In a small green area along our route, two other cops - in uniform - had just wrestled a man to the ground and were putting handcuffs on him. Shirley was gripping my arm tightly.
We carried on feeling a little perturbed but soon reached The Ebenezer Chapel where one of Dr King's speeches was playing over the speakers. Soon we arrived at the great man's grave - on a kind of island. We didn't have to queue for long to pay our silent homage.
Next, we went over to the historical center which contained an array of exhibits that thoughtfully told the story of the freedom struggle and the civil rights movement for which Martin was of course an amazing and courageous spokesman. It was very moving.
But here's the thing and the main reason I have created this blogpost. After walking away from Atlanta city centre, we did not see one other white person. No white people in The Ebenezer Chapel, no other white people at Dr King's grave and none in The Martin Luther King Junior Historical Center either. Previously, I had imagined that Americans of all creeds and colours would be present in the area like pilgrims but no, they were all black! Perhaps it was just that afternoon and on other days the racial make-up of the crowd would be mixed but I don't think so. The sad realisation spoke volumes to me about equality.
After leaving the historical center, Shirley insisted that we should catch a public bus back into the city centre. After all, we did not wish to end our holiday by being gunned down as the black detective had intimated could easily happen.