Visiting Sweet Auburn
Kent Johnson is the co-founder of the digital platform & award-winning travel company for Black millennials, Black & Abroad, where he not only sheds light on the journeys of expats and travelers of color, he also partners with travel-centric brands to create authentic & organic campaigns for the millennial consumer and crafts group travel experiences to destinations worldwide.
Kent has been published in The Huffington Post & Cassius Magazine, featured in Black Enterprise, Ebony, MIC, Rolling Out, VICE & Creative Loafing, named one of the 100 most influential African-Americans of 2017 by The Root and recognized with a Creative Data Grand Prix for his work behind Black & Abroad’s “Go Back to Africa” campaign at the 2019 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. He’s spoken at the United Nations, Facebook, MasterCard, and other entities on topics such as social media branding & digital marketing, diversity & inclusion, the travel & spending habits of millennials and technology in travel.
In his spare time, Kent hosts a podcast on culture & current events and is a practicing attorney.
Sweet Auburn Historic District remains a cornerstone in both Atlanta’s & America’s history. The area, given its “sweet” moniker by Atlanta hero John Wesley Dobbs, was known in the early 20th century as the “richest Negro street in the world” and functioned as a haven of opportunity for African Americans in Atlanta, giving way to successful Black owned businesses, churches and social organizations in a region of the country where Jim Crow laws left little hope for African American progress in the South. I’ve visited this area of the city quite often, and it’s usually the place I bring family and friends who are visiting Atlanta for the first time, as it brings life to stories they’ve been told and history they may have learned. Atlanta is key to understanding the Civil Rights Movement as a whole, and Sweet Auburn specifically holds many connections to the figures and moments we’ve come to know as pivotal American history. Visiting Sweet Auburn is an ideal way to capture a glimpse of Atlanta’s past and personally explore locations where great moments in the Civil Rights Movement took place. Here’s a quick guide to making the most of your time there.
Food is a perfect gateway to learning about the past, so Municipal Market (better known as Sweet Auburn Curb Market) is a great place to start your Sweet Auburn experience. Located in the heart of Atlanta, the market is home to individual businesses, including traditional produce and meat merchants. It also serves as a place where many of Atlanta’s beloved restaurants started and continues as an incubator for up and coming foodie favorites. Grab a burger from Grindhouse Killer Burgers or a tasty Southern bite from Sweet D’s Pralines. If you’re looking for something light, opt for a cup of tea from Just Add Honey Tea Company or a fresh juice from Rawesome Juicery.
After you’ve indulged in some sweet and delicious treats at the market, work off some of those calories with a quick walk down Auburn Avenue, enjoying the colorful murals honoring Atlanta’s changemakers like John Lewis and Evelyn Gibson Lowery along the way. You’ll also pass the original office building of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the civil rights organization responsible for many of the demonstrations and marches that led to change in America, and holds Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as its first sitting President.
Just a few short blocks away from Municipal Market, you’ll find Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park, where you can tour Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth home, visit the historic Ebenezer Church, and take a trip back in time through the neighborhood that helped Dr. King grow into the man the world admires today. Ebenezer Baptist Church sits just a few moments away from Dr. King’s birth home and served as a haven for many during the Civil Rights Movement. Both Dr. King and his father were preachers there at one point and the church still holds service today. It’s one of those places where you feel the warmth and the weight of the work done there, the moment you step into the sanctuary. While this area is open to the public, you can also schedule a private tour inside of the King home in advance. Be advised, such an experience is first come, first served.
For a more robust Sweet Auburn experience, hop on Atlanta Streetcar to get a modernized feel for a streetcar ride during Sweet Auburn’s bustling early days. Head towards The National Center for Civil & Human Rights to gain a deeper connection to Atlanta’s history and a clearer understanding of why it’s considered the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement. If you want to spend the evening in the area, walk one block over to Edgewood Avenue for a true Atlantan night on the town at local music venues, restaurants and hidden speakeasies which harken back to the area’s heyday. For a true blast from the past, enjoy a drink at Royal Peacock. Originally known as The Top Hat Night Club, this club was heralded as one of the premier clubs for African Americans in the 1930s, hosting performers like Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and Atlanta’s own Gladys Knight.
The past prepares us for the future, so it’s great to have places in Atlanta like Sweet Auburn that provide access to history at your fingertips. The area stands as a testament to Atlanta’s Black history and to the power of perseverance for equality for all Americans. As a Black man, it’s humbling to be able to walk the same pavement as many of our country’s great change agents, and know that their tireless efforts have afforded me the ability to also effect change and be a part of progress. With every step I take on Auburn Avenue, it feels as though I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, and a comforting sense of pride rushes in. Sitting in the benches at Dr. King’s birth home, knowing that he, at one point, did the same lets me know that the past is just as present as today. Thankfully, the soul of Sweet Auburn provides an opportunity for all of us to step back into history and simultaneously make new memories.