John Lewis mural in Atlanta's Sweet Auburn District
John Lewis mural on Auburn Avenue in the Sweet Auburn Historic District in Atlanta, Georgia

How to Spend a Day in Atlanta's Sweet Auburn Historic District

Explore the history and iconic landmarks along Auburn Avenue, one of Atlanta's most famous streets.

During the 1920s, Auburn Avenue became the commercial center of Black Atlanta. And in 1956, Fortune Magazine named it "The richest Negro street in America." The phrase "Sweet Auburn" was coined by businessman and civil rights activist John Wesley Dobbs, the "Unofficial Mayor of Sweet Auburn" and the maternal grandfather of Atlanta's first African American mayor, Maynard Jackson. Today, the avenue is home to the Sweet Auburn Springfest, the Caribbean Festival & Parade, and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Parade. Here's the best way to spend a day in the Sweet Auburn Historic District.

Start with some history

Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History
Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History

Your first stop must be the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History. It is the first public library in the Southeast to offer specialized reference and archival collections dedicated to the study and research of African American culture and history and of other peoples of African descent. The newly renovated library has all the information you want on Auburn Avenue’s history.

APEX Museum in Atlanta
APEX Museum

Next door is the APEX Museum, Atlanta’s only museum solely dedicated to telling the rich and often untold story of people of the African Diaspora. The museum houses exhibits on Africa, the slave trade, African Women in S.T.E.M., Atlanta’s African American politicians and a film on the history of Sweet Auburn.

Look for these iconic locations

Atlanta Daily World photo by Kalin Thomas
Atlanta Daily World. Photo by Kalin Thomas

Continue east down Auburn Avenue and you’ll see the historic sign for the The Atlanta Daily World, the first black daily newspaper in the country. The paper ran from this building from 1928 to 2008. Though its offices have moved, the paper continues to provide coverage of issues and events affecting Atlanta’s African American communities.

Across the street is the historic sign for The Royal Peacock. In its heyday, the black-owned nightclub hosted such entertainers as James Brown, Little Richard, Gladys Knight, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. Today, M Bar Ultra Lounge is housed there, offering upscale bar food and drinks.

Go to church

Big Bethel A.M.E. Church
Big Bethel A.M.E. Church

If you're visiting on a Sunday, why not get your praise on at a church service at one of four churches along the avenue? Big Bethel A.M.E. Church founded historically black Morris Brown College in 1881. Auburn Avenue was originally called Wheat Street until 1823, and Wheat Street Baptist Church is where the Butler Street YMCA — known as Atlanta’s "Black City Hall" — was founded in 1894. It's also where part of the movie "Selma" was shot. There's also Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, and Historic Ebenezer Baptist Churchwhere both Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr. and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached. Church services are held at the new church building across the street, while only tours and special events are held in the historic building.

Eat great food

Sweet Auburn Curb Market in Atlanta
The Municipal Market

After church, you’ll continue to be thankful as you experience the Sunday brunch at Sweet Auburn Seafood, where their seafood omelet and shrimp & grits will make you want to shout! If Caribbean food is your thing, try the jerk chicken or oxtails at Mangos. Or, enjoy the skyline view with your tapas on the rooftop of Cafe Circa, one block south on Edgewood Avenue. Also on Edgewood, you’ll find a smorgasbord of food options at The Municipal Market. Opened in 1924, it houses vendors offering everything from fresh meats, fish and produce, to prepared foods. Don’t leave without trying a mouth-watering burger at Grindhouse Killer Burgers. And, chitterling lovers have come to the right place! The market is known for selling more chitterlings than any other place in the world — especially during the holidays.

Learn about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The funeral cart for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Photo by Maria Smith
The funeral cart for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Photo by Maria Smith

Back on Auburn Avenue, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park offers a smorgasbord of historic sites to see. The park includes the Visitor Center, which holds the original farm wagon that held King’s casket during his funeral procession, along with exhibits and a film on King.

The Civil Rights Walk of Fame. Photo by Kalin Thomas
The Civil Rights Walk of Fame. Photo by Kalin Thomas

Also included is the Civil Rights Walk of Fame, where you can step into the footprints of activists like Congressman John Lewis. Across the street is The King Center, which houses exhibits on Dr. King, as well as the tombs of Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King.

Exhibit at The King Center. Photo by Kalin Thomas
Exhibit at The King Center. Photo by Kalin Thomas

One block east, tour the Martin Luther King Jr. Birth Home, and see other historic homes where the pastor of Wheat Street Baptist Church and the principal of Booker T. Washington High School — Atlanta’s first high school for African Americans — lived. And finally, there's Historic Fire Station No. 6, which houses an old-fashioned fire engine and an exhibit on the desegregation of Atlanta's fire department.

Historic Fire Station No. 6. Photo by Kalin Thomas
Historic Fire Station No. 6. Photo by Kalin Thomas

Getting around

A walk down Sweet Auburn is like a walk through history. But if you're not into walking, catch the Atlanta Streetcar, which will take you all the way down the Avenue and even to The Municipal Market for only $1, or $3 for an all-day pass.

Published: September 2018
Written by: Kalin Thomas