National Park Service Acquires MLK’s Childhood Home

By Sameer Rao Dec 17, 2018

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. entered the world and lived for 12 years in a brown two-story home in Sweet Auburn, one of Atlanta’s most vibrant Black commercial and residential areas. After years of tenuous maintenence, the National Park Service (NPS) purchased the house and plans to restore and preserve it for generations to come. 

rntThe New York Times reported Saturday (December 15) that the National Park Foundation, the agency’s philanthropic arm, acquired the home for $1.9 million. “Thanks to private philanthropy, the National Park Foundation facilitated the purchase of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth home from the King Center, the owner of the home since 1973, and its immediate transfer to the National Park Service," foundation president Will Shafroth said in an announcement.

The Times adds that King lived in the house with his parents and grandparents until pre-adolescence. It sits three blocks from Ebenezer Baptist Chuch, where he, his father and grandfather all preached. The family moved to another house in the area in 1941. Coretta Scott King saved the home from demolition in the late-’60s. She founded The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change soon after her husband’s assassination in 1968; his mother transfered the house’s deed to The King Center five years later.

The King Center CEO Bernice King told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the organization struggled to adequately maintain the home over the years. 

“My mother never saw us in the interpretive or preservation business,” King said. “The National Park Service has been managing and upkeeping the birth home for years, we have just been the owner on record.”

The NPS took over daily operations and tours soon after Congress incorporated the property into the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in 1980. President Donald Trump signed an act to rename the site, whose facilities include the aforementioned church and Dr. and Mrs. King’s tomb, as the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in January. The Times writes that the home hosted more than 580,000 visitors in 2017.

The AJC notes that the foundation will raise millions more dollars to renovate and preserve the home. Without the burden of ownership, the King Center will invest more energy in education and training opportunities around King’s nonviolent activist ideology.

“We are working on creating more robust nonviolence training,” Bernice King told The AJC. “Our society is desperately in need of Dr. King’s nonviolent teachings right now in order to create a just, humane and peaceful world. That is what we are trying to put our energy in.”