January 17, 2023 | Main Spotlight: A Community of Support - Protecting Black History in Dublin, Georgia | By: Miriam Ponton, Executive Director of Visit Dublin GA |
Children Visiting Dublin from Eagles Landing Christian Academy in McDonough. Photo by Visit Dublin GA.
The history of where we’ve been and the dreams of where we’re going have always been an important part of the shaping of who we have been and will become in Dublin, Georgia. We have a historical connection to Martin Luther King Jr., and we have dedicated community energy and space towards honoring this story. We also take time each year to remember and celebrate other Black Georgians who have contributed to the thriving culture of our city. Through the efforts of Visit Dublin GA, Downtown Dublin (an Accredited Main Street community), and other organizations, we are building an inclusive and welcoming community of support.
A Monumental Past
On April 17, 1944, the Colored Elks Clubs of Georgia held their state convention at First African Baptist Church in Dublin, Georgia, and sponsored an essay contest. A 15-year-old student at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta delivered a speech entitled “The Negro and the Constitution.” Little did the audience realize they were witnessing the first public speech by Martin L. King, Jr., and the start of the Civil Rights Movement.
The speech detailed the struggle for true equality, ending with the quote, “My heart throbs anew in the hope that inspired by the example of Lincoln, imbued with the spirit of Christ, they will cast down the last barrier to perfect freedom. And I, with my brother of blackest hue possessing at last my rightful heritage and holding my head erect, may stand beside the Saxon- a Negro-and yet a man!” In his autobiography, King recalls that the reading of this essay was his first public political speech, and he spent the next twenty-four years of his life fighting for the constitutional rights of the people of his race.
On the return trip to Atlanta from Dublin, young Martin Luther King, Jr. was asked, for the first time in his life, to relinquish his bus seat and stand in the rear of the bus with his teacher. Dr. King initially refused the demand but was later convinced by his teacher to give up his seat. A recounting of this experience can be found in The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Claiborne Carson.
This monumental historic event became known in 2010, thanks to the research of Scott Thompson, a local historian whose dedication and vision has preserved much of Laurens County’s history for future generations.
Celebrating Dr. King
Today, the First African Baptist Church in Dublin, Georgia, continues to serve as a reminder of the power of just one voice. Each year in April, Dublin celebrates the speech-making tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when First African Baptist Church hosts an annual Oratorical Speech Contest, inviting youth from around the globe to put pen to paper and words into action and deliver speeches of action, inspiration, and hope.
When that rich history was discovered within the doors of First African Baptist Church, Visit Dublin Georgia, Georgia Department of Economic Development’s (GDEcD) Tourism Division, Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the City of Dublin, local historian Scott Thompson and the MLK Monument Park Committee worked together to build Dublin’s MLK Monument Park and share the story with the world.
On April 17th, 2017, the 73rd anniversary of King’s speech in 1944 at First African Baptist Church, Dublin revealed her new Martin Luther King, Jr. Monument Park, just across the street from the church, at the gateway to downtown. Located at the intersection of US Hwy. 441 and Church Street, the new park marks Dublin as the place where a fifteen-year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his first public speech and is the result of over three years’ work, a project that garnered the support of over two hundred partners, donors, and contributors.
Corey Barksdale sculpture and mural at MLK Park at MLK Park in downtown Dublin, Georgia. Photo by Visit Dublin GA.
Featuring a painted mural, gateway to Downtown Dublin signage, interior wall photomural, and an audio box featuring stories pertaining to the local Civil Rights Movement as well as a modern recitation of young Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, the park is set to serve as a place of inspiration and reflection.
In 2018, the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Tourism division awarded a development grant to Dublin Downtown Development Authority for the renovation of the Telfair Street building adjoining MLK Monument Park. The grant award from GDEcD catapulted the project into the public and private eye, drawing another grant awarded to Dublin DDA from Georgia Power for façade improvements to the building. Once the renovation was complete, local African American owned photography company, Betta Focus Photography leased the building, completing Dublin’s vision of bringing new life and more joy to a major gateway of downtown Dublin.
The Dudley Motel
Dublin’s role in the Civil Rights Movement continued over the years as Dr. King and other leaders like Andrew Young, Reverend Abernathy, and Maynard Jackson would return to Dublin’s Dudley Motel where they could rest, eat, refuel, and plan action during the Civil Rights Movement.
Feeding the Soul of Dublin
We continue our trip through Dublin’s African American history with some food for thought, soul food. Founded in 1955 by Lee and Ardessa Wright Miller, Miller’s Soul Food is the oldest Black-owned eatery in the city. This little restaurant sits tucked in the midst of Downtown Dublin where conversations are long, friends linger, and everyone has an opinion about what Miller’s cooks best. A Dublin institution in comfort food, family recipes and tradition have been carried on the Miller’s daughter Nadine, and other relatives. To preserve the taste of decades, in 2019 Visit Dublin GA produced a video capturing the Miller history.
The summer of 2022 American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced their list of the 25 U.S. historic independent restaurants that will receive $1 million in grant funding through the Backing Historic Small Restaurants grant program. Millers Soul Food in Downtown Dublin, Georgia, was the only Georgia restaurant awarded the allotted $40,000 grant.
Celebrating a Rich History
In celebration of these many contributions of African Americans to our city, every January through February, the City of Dublin celebrates the cultural heritage and of its black citizens with banners that fly above the streets of our downtown commemorating the challenges faced, obstacles overcome, and strides being taken. Over twenty years ago, Dublin’s first black history banners came as a result of City Council attending a National League of Cities convention where the meeting space was decorated with banners from around the world. Dublin City Councilman, Gary Johnson, returned to Dublin with an idea for celebrating black heritage and history with banners downtown.