Now, the King childhood home and family home will be maintained by National Park Service
The National Park Foundation, the National Park Service, and King family announced yesterday that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s home on Sunset Avenue in the historic Vine City neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia, will be made accessible to the public for the first time as part of Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, a part of the National Park System.
According to Dr. Bernice A. King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke on behalf of the King family, the addition of the home helps to tell a more complete story about the King family’s experiences and contributions to our nation’s history.
“We realized as a family that in order for my family’s legacy to continue, that it takes numerous people to take part in it,” King said in a press call. “We are excited to share an important part of history with that National Park Service and the home that we grew up in on Sunset Avenue.
“It was always the wish on my mother that the home we grew up in would be preserved for future generations,” King said. “We are honored to carry out her wish and share with future generations the story of our dad as a father, a husband, a minister, and a civil rights leader. We knew it was important for this home to be preserved a part of a greater story told around my father’s and mother’s lives.”
The two-story home on 234 Sunset Avenue, with four bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms, featured an unfinished basement that later was built out as the original site of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
“We moved from a home on Johnson Ave — now, John Lewis Parkway — to this one on Sunset Avenue in 1965,” King said. “It was in 1966 when they purchased the home. The home that I remember was the one on Sunset Avenue.”
The National Park Foundation purchased the home for $400,000, via private philanthropy, from the estate of Coretta Scott King on Jan. 8, 2019, and immediately transferred it to the National Park Service. This follows the National Park Foundation’s purchase and transfer of Dr. King’s birth home in late 2018.
“African American history is U.S. history, and the family home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King is a touchstone for us all to better understand our shared heritage,” said Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation. “The acquisition of both Dr. King’s birth home and the family home he shared with Coretta Scott King and their children advances the National Park Foundation’s commitment to telling a more comprehensive American story through national parks.
“With greater access to Dr. King’s life and legacy, we can learn more about this country’s past and how his work continues to echo through time,” he added.
The National Park Foundation is the official charity of America’s national parks and nonprofit partner to the National Park Service. Chartered by Congress in 1967, the National Park Foundation raises private funds to help protect more than 84 million acres of national parks through critical conservation and preservation efforts. It operates independently from the National Park Service.
In December, the National Park Foundation bought the King childhood home at 501 Auburn Avenue in Atlanta for an undisclosed sum from The King Center, according to a National Park Foundation statement.
According to reports, the King family owned the home on Auburn Avenue for more than a century. The home was built in 1895 for a white family and bought by King’s maternal grandfather in 1909 for $3,500. King’s mother inherited it. King’s younger brother, A.D. King, and his family were the last of the King line to live there.
Congress declared the home a National Historic Site in 1980, and the National Park Service began offering tours of it in 1982. Both homes will remain national historic sites; they will be maintained and preserved by the foundation.
King admitted that because of the fond memories she and her family shared in the home, it was difficult for her to release the home, despite a desire for her mother to transfer its ownership as early as 2000.
“It wasn’t easy to release our home,” King said. “This was a home I lived in since I was two.”
“For me it was a struggle to come to grips with not having the home in terms of the access we’ve had all these years,” King admitted. “In line with major revitalization efforts in the entire Westside community, it was only apropos that our home is a part of that process. Getting to that process of releasing and coinciding with what is now going on in that neighborhood, we feel we made the best decision.”
“I never was aware of the magnitude of what was happening. We were a normal family, though we had a lot of structure around us,” King recalled from her childhood. “After school, we were able to play in the neighborhood or play basketball in the backyard.
“Around dinnertime, we’d gather around the dining room table where my mom would lead us in discussions,” she continued. “I remember on the table there were these long-stemmed onions that my father would grab and start nibbling on.”
According to King, the last person to live in the home was her mother, who moved into a condominium on Peachtree Road in 2004. “Our family continued to maintain the home,” King said.
“The addition of the homes where Dr. King was born and where he raised his family with Coretta Scott King provides the National Park Service sacred spaces to more fully tell the story of Dr. King’s life and legacy,” said National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith. “Thanks to the efforts of the National Park Foundation and the generosity of the King family, these areas are now among the many civil rights sites that are preserved as part of the National Park System and will be accessible to the American people in perpetuity.”
“The National Park Service’s dedication to preserving historic properties is unmatched,” King said. “We are very pleased to have worked with the National Park Foundation to ensure that the family home that my siblings and I grew up in will be open and available to the public.
“We’re delighted that this took place,” she added. “We want to thank the National Park Foundation for facilitating the sale. We enjoy working with the Park Service and the Park Foundation.”
According to Shafroth, the home is in the process of being evaluated for structural integrity, some roofing issues and being adequately fitted for frequent visitors once it opens. The National Park Service will also have to consider a massive increase in traffic in a neighborhood that has been largely residential for years.
“Given the partial government shutdown, we cannot exactly answer on behalf of the National Park Service a timeline for when the renovations will be completed on the home,” Shafroth said.
King added, “We hope that the government shutdown will be over soon that people will be able to view this home and learn more about my father. A lot of children aren’t aware Dr. King had a family or children. Bringing people into this home will give them a chance to see that he had children and we did the same things they do as children.”