Old Fourth Ward, Atlanta, Georgia is site to Dr. Martin Luther King’s home, Ebenezer Baptist Church (new and old), political/artistic expression and history.  You can learn a lot just walking the streets of Auburn and Hilliard.  The people that live here are constantly confronting history and reinterpretations of the past.  Just this year, international artist, J.R. commemorated the 5Oth Anniversary of the March on Washington by covering sides of buildings with his famous wheat pastings. Below is my experience just one afternoon in the Old Fourth Ward

Ebenezer Baptist Church where the honorable Dr. Martin Luther King  Junior delivered many testimonies and sermons along with his father, Michael Luther King Senior (Sr. changed his name and his son’s to Martin in 1934 after being inspired by theologian, Martin Luther during a trip to Germany) .  The church is a historical monument that can be accessed free-of-charge.  You may spend time in the sanctuary and listen to recorded sermons like you were right there 50 years prior.  Right across the street is the newly-built, fully-functioning, Ebenzer Baptist Church attended throughout the week for regular services.

International French-born artist and TED award recipient, JR visited Atlanta to participate in the 50th Anniversary of Civil Rights Activism and the March on Washington by sharing his famous wheatpastings on walls in The Old Fourth Ward.  Though its rumored that JR experienced some difficulty acquiring images from the family of MLK Jr. he was able to paste images closely associated with events of that time, provoking memories and thought of civil rights then and now.

In this 2013 plutocratic society, we continue to struggle with civil rights issues for people of color, homosexuals, and prisoners.  Though we have laws being passed supporting the rights of these individuals, to be perceived as one of these can sometimes be dangerous, stifling and risky.

While most people recognize the Thirteenth Amendment as the piece of legislature that abolished slavery in the U.S. for Blacks in 1865, many people do not know the actual language of this particular document.  Section One of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Sooooo slavery shall exist for you if you are a convicted felon?

Now for some interesting facts according to the NAACP website, Naacp.org:

  • African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population
  • African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites
  • Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population
  • According to Unlocking America, if African American and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates of whites, today’s prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50%
  • One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime
  • 1 in 100 African American women are in prison
  • Nationwide, African-Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice).

Drug Sentencing Disparities

  • About 14 million Whites and 2.6 million African Americans report using an illicit drug
  • 5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites
  • African Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those in state prison for a drug offense.
  • African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months). (Sentencing Project)
Pelican Bay State Prison Strike Poster
Pelican Bay State Prison Strike Poster

A poster for the July 8th California’s Pelican Bay State Prisoners Strike is pasted to window.  This summer, prisoners went on hunger and work strike for failure to fulfill promises agreed to following the 2011 food strike in which strikers demanded: greater access to educational materials, healthy food, visitation, and an end to the practices of the prisons’ “Secure Housing Unit” (solitary confinment) which holds some inmates for years and even decades at a time.  These are not isolated incidences.  It is common knowledge that treatment of the incarcerated is typically below humane and many justify it as punishment for committing a crime against society.  However, with a system that incarcerates particular communities at a higher rate and legalizes double-standard punishments, this just further supports poor treatment and enslavement of people who have historically been oppressed and condemned for color of their skin, inside and outside of the prison system.

Anyway, just take a stroll in the Old Fourth Ward and appreciate your visual experience by learning something new.

-shady p.

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