What Hope of Three Toilets?

Tuesday 3rd March 2020

It was not easy to gain the Martin Luther King Birth Home in Atlanta – public transport, perhaps white-led, conspiring against. I went most of the way on foot, unheard of in America. The neighbourhood is still black and more picturesque and historic than other parts of the city with no feeling that it’s all about to be torn down and replaced with high rise. I went into a shop where there were only black people ‘hanging out’ to ask how to pay for the bus ticket for the return journey. They couldn’t have been more charming although they didn’t specifically mention my Zara coat.

The Martin Luther King section has an agreeable park in which is situated a super new Ebenezer Baptist Church bang opposite the still functioning original one where Martin Luther King’s father was the Pastor and where his own funeral was held in 1968, with the throng surging in the street in its vastness. A water-feature has a Biblical cascade and lake in the middle of which the Kings are buried. There’s also a Visitor Centre and Exhibit. Funny how terrible events often lead to an agreeable park and visitor centre. It’s the same story with the 1st World War and all those Lutyens cemeteries.

The Birth Home Visit was rare. Free but you had to wait. A white person sold the tickets. He was blind so one didn’t dare fail to turn up to take one’s place which would deprive another as sternly warned in a Bibical manner. Of course I wasn’t going to miss it. The chance of that third toilet, as much as anything else – Martin Luther King’s to add to Queen Victoria’s and Margaret Mitchell’s. ¬†Conscientiously I went round the Visitor Centre, wracked with guilt about going to the shopping mall the day before. These events were within my time. From literature and memory, I thought I knew it all. Photographs. The protestors made a point of being smartly dressed as well as non-violent. They knew that a tiny step out of line and they’d be condemned as sub-human, not fit. So there are all these photos of elegant ladies and gentlemen, the excellent post-Dior look of the Sixties and those darling little hats for the men, so flattering, standing wide-eyed in the midst of the debris of police brutality.

The actual guide for the Birth Home was from the Virgin Islands. Her main object was to withhold the Birth Home for as long as possible, building with ferocious warnings in the next-door sweet shop. No photos was one of her direst thunderings. Oh no! Would I dare? She also had quite a lot to say about the Virgin Islands, none of it complimentary. She was dressed for battle.

The general idea of the Martin Luther King complex was to have frightening attendants. Once inside the Birth Home – well, it’s a big house and a marvellous period preservation from 1929, except it’s all been ‘reassembled’. ¬†Martin Luther King and his brother smashed up all their original bedroom furniture – while they were in it. At least they had some fun. A boarding house look, except it wasn’t a boarding house. Chocolate brown for the woodwork, tobacco dinge for the walls, moquette and tapestry cushions, burgundy carpets, the odd bit of aluminium. And toilets. The Platonic ideal of the miserable lino bathroom with mint-green walls and pipes… I was so busy buttering up the guide from the Virgin Islands and trying to make up for Slavery. What hope of a snoop graph? A classic period toilet with black seat. Martin Luther King spent much time on it, the guide was saying, reading tracts and avoiding doing the washing up. In the end I just couldn’t. The only good to come is that that toilet, not photographed, is embossed on my memory in a way that others are not. But for me only…

We moved on to the washing machine which was parked at the end of the huge hallway. ¬†I tried to explain that in England nobody had a proper washing machine until at least the 1960s. The Gay Mother had a twin tub. I didn’t think it wise to mention that she is Landed Gentry. Anyway – complete blank. It was as if I hadn’t said anything, which was quite often the case in the South, now I think of it. It was the same when I blared at two other visitors, an unlikely black couple, either relations or boyfriends, they can’t have been friends. One was wispy and lithe and inclined to giggles, with much jewellery and scarves, the other a regular guy, older, good figure. To them I said, ‘This is a big house.’ I suppose they thought it was just fact, rather than interpretation and couldn’t imagine why it was worth saying.

The other thing I found out about Martin Luther King – but from Wikipedia – is that he was incredibly extra marital. Apparently it was to relieve anxiety.

The Martin Luther King Birth Home, Atlanta, Georgia. You have to Understand that the House is Narrow but Deep. It Goes Back a Long Way

The Martin Luther King Birth Home, Atlanta, Georgia. You have to Understand that the House is Narrow but Deep. It Goes Back a Long Way

The Old Ebenezer Baptist Church, Where Martin Luther King's Funeral was Held in 1968

The Old Ebenezer Baptist Church, Where Martin Luther King’s Funeral was Held in 1968

The Cascade at the Martin Luther King Burial Site

The Cascade at the Martin Luther King Burial Site

The Kings - Their Grave

The Kings – Their Grave

Posted Tuesday, March 3, 2020 under Adrian Edge day by day.

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