King Funeral Site Reflects Changes in Black America

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On a map, the churches are separated only by a few miles of gray interstate highway. But in reality, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in suburban Lithonia and Ebenezer Baptist Church in the historic Sweet Auburn section of Atlanta are worlds apart.

Ebenezer, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was eulogized in 1968, is surrounded by a sickly cluster of rib shacks, barber shops and billiard halls that time seemingly forgot. The area is nothing like the thriving black community it was many years ago.

New Birth, the site of Coretta Scott King's funeral Tuesday, sits on prime real estate in southern DeKalb County, once a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan and now the second-richest black suburb, after Maryland's Prince George's County. Black professionals, entrepreneurs and entertainers live in houses that the Kings could have only dreamed of as they led the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

The two churches stand like symbolic bookends of the era that began with King's assassination. The story of their differing landscapes is, in many ways, the story of black America's transformation after the movement, highlighting the themes of increased suburbanization, heightened prosperity and abandonment of the inner cities.

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