Martin Luther King and Margaret Mitchell were both born here (although they would have had somewhat different takes on the state capital of racially-segregated Georgia). And so was Coca Cola. Strictly speaking it was concocted in Columbus, Georgia, but prohibition era production started here, and Atlanta remains the global HQ. Atlanta also has a zoo with pandas in it, the world’s busiest airport, and hosted the Olympics in 1996 but the city still feels weirdly local. Possibly because, aside from Downtown (conference centres, major hotel chains, venues) and Midtown (with upmarket shopping, galleries, malls, smaller hotel chains, as well as some seedier strip malls, ‘checks cashed’ loans offices, tattoo parlours and Taco Bells and whatnots in pockets that haven’t yet had their makeovers) Atlanta comprises ‘intown’ neighbourhoods which roll along fairly autonomously and have their own character and charm – like Little Five Points and Virginia Highlands. I didn’t find Uptown. Everything is loosely connected by MARTA a transport system that’s utterly unfathomable. I saw a bus stop once (as in stop for people to get on and off) but only once. Tickets can be bought at train stations, and I never found one of those. (I asked the night receptionist for directions to a MARTA station and she said, and I have to say, somewhat witheringly, that she had never used public transport to get here in her life.
I tend to ignore these, but Top Visitor Attractions include the not-to-be-missed 23-acre Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site: the house he grew up in, Ebenezer Church he preached in, papers and documents relating to his life and the wider civil rights movement at the King Center established by Coretta Scott King. His grave is here in the middle of the reflecting pool, with its extraordinarily poignant epitaph ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m free at last’. Apologies for grammar but I’m in a rush to check out of the Highland Inn and head to Alabama. Anyway if you’re not all churned up and teary here, your heart is stone and your politics suspect. For the record, Margaret Mitchell’s house over on 10th street, pilgrimage destination for ladies of a certain age, is pretty awful and has net curtains. I’m not surprised she sat there and escaped into the flight of fantasy and old south history mix that is Gone With the Wind. To be fair, she, herself, called it ‘the Dump’.
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, 450 Auburn Avenue, N.E. Atlanta, Tel 404-331-5190. Info on The King Center. Also Margaret Mitchell House & Museum, 990 Peachtree St, Atlanta, 404- 249-7015, and World of Coca-Cola (which I am genuinely sorry to have missed) 121 Baker Street Northwest Atlanta, Tel 404-676-5151. See also somewhereville’s ATLANTA LOCAL for info on shopping, eating, sleeping in the oft-overlooked in-town neighbourhoods.