WASHINGTON, August 27, 2013 — As the legacy spotlight shines on Martin Luther King, Jr., some wonder about his connections to the famous 16th century monk and church reformer Martin Luther. King’s father, Martin Sr., actually changed his own name and that of his young son in 1934 from Michael King to Martin Luther King after he became inspired by what he learned about Martin Luther during a trip to Germany.
There are other connections beside the name between Martin Jr. and Martin Luther. Both were committed to their faith and changed the worlds they lived in. King was a Baptist minister – one of the branches of Protestant Christianity that is credited to Martin Luther’s church reforms. Both earned university degrees in theology and left extensive writings about their beliefs and issues they tackled. Both men burned with the desire to achieve justice and equality for their fellow men. Both lived flawed and controversial lives, but loved and cared for their families. Each man suffered persecution for his beliefs and efforts to strike down segregation (King) and injustices by the Roman Catholic Church (Luther).
Modern day culture travelers can gain more insight into the lives and legacies of both men at U.S. and German sites that reflect their lives and reformer passions.
Martin Luther King Jr. Sites
Washington, DC: MLK delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the National Mall August 28, 1963, and the nearby Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in West Potomac Park honors his legacy. Free park ranger talks and other events happen regularly near the memorial.
Atlanta, GA: The 22-acre Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service chronicles King’s boyhood home on Auburn Avenue, the “I Have a Dream” World Peace Rose Garden, the Baptist church where he and his father were pastors for decades, and Dr. King’s grave.
Montgomery, AL: MLK was pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church from 1954 to 1960. This was where he gained fame as an advocate for non-violent resistance to racial oppression and inequalities of his day. It was from this church that King and his team organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger. Tours of the church and nearby parsonage are available.
The Civil Rights Memorial with the engraved names of those who died in the struggle was created by Maya Lin, the artist who also created the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. The 54-mile Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail traces the route of three voting rights marches Dr. King led in 1965. Following broadcast coverage of marchers getting beaten and gassed by police in the first two marches, thousands of supporters joined King and his team for the third and final march that ended on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol. Later that year, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that enfranchised African American voters. Tours of the capitol building are available.
Birmingham, AL: Dr. King organized boycotts and protests in Kelly Ingram Park across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church. When police used fire hoses and dogs to subdue protestors, public outrages led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In September of that year, four African American girls died in the church when the Ku Klux Klan bombed it. Church tours are available Tuesday-Friday and by appointment on Saturdays. Nearby, The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute presents exhibits about the historic struggles.
Memphis, TN: MLK was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in 1968 where the National Civil Rights Museum about the civil rights struggles of the mid-20th century now stands. The motel façade remains, as does Room 306 where Dr. King stayed. Across the street, there’s an exhibit in the building from which the assassin James Earl Ray fired the deadly shot.
Martin Luther tours in Germany
Martin Luther is generally regarded as the “match” that sparked the fires of Protestant Reformation, changing both the church and the world. It was October 31, 1517, when he nailed his 95 theses of protest to the Wittenberg church door. That act was the “match” that sparked the Protestant Reformation. October 31 remains Reformation Day, and is celebrated in Wittenberg and elsewhere each year.
Germany is featuring several aspects (music, art, tolerance, politics) of the Reformation in the “Luther Decade” that has been in motion since 2008. Luther will be the global spotlight in 2017 when the 500th anniversary of his Wittenberg act comes up. For detailed information, go to visit-luther.com.
Luther lived and worked on Germany’s east front, one of the most beautiful and culturally rich regions of the country. The don’t-miss Lutherland stops include:
Erfurt: Luther became a monk here and began preaching in 1505. The cathedral where he was ordained dominates the main square. Erfurt is also location for the Augustinian Monastery where Luther lived for six years as a monk. Tours and lodging in the monastery are available. Don’t miss the stained glass windows in the church that depict the lives of Jesus Christ and St. Augustine.
Near Erfurt, it has the houses where Luther was born and died. The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul is where the great reformer was baptized, and St. Andrew’s Church has the pulpit from which Luther preached his last sermon. Other interesting sites include St. Anne’s, an old miner’s church famous for the Biblical scenes hewn in its stones. J.S. Bach’s birthplace house is now a museum filled with wonderful medieval instruments and other musical memorabilia.
Wittenberg: This is the university town where Luther taught and nailed his famous 95 theses (complaints) to the church door October 31, 1517. He was buried inside the church in 1546. This Luther town has several UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the castle and municipal churches that have Luther history, as well as Luther’s house, which contains the most extensive collection of Reformation memorabilia in the world. The city celebrates Luther’s wedding to former nun Katharina von Bora in June, and Reformation Day in October each year.
Eisenach: High on a mountain that overlooks this picturesque town is Wartburg Castle where Luther hid out here after the pope excommunicated him. Castle tours are a Lutherland “must.” It was here that he translated the New Testament from Latin Vulgate to German in 1522. This was a bold move in an era when priests were considered to be the only source for scriptural reference.
Tour companies offering Reformation itineraries include Globus, Reformation Tours, Pilgrim Tours and Nawas International. Comprehensive Reformation itineraries include other countries like Switzerland and Scotland or other German cities such as Dresden, Berlin and Leipzig. Start your planning at www.germany.travel.
Read more of Ruth Hill’s faith travel columns at Contemporary Christian Travel in the Washington Times Communities.
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