Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birth home, church, and grave site comprise this National Historic Site and Preservation District along with the previously National Register-listed Martin Luther King, Jr., Historic District and the historic black commercial area, the Sweet Auburn Historic District. All of these properties are important in understanding both the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement.
King was born in a frame house at 501 Auburn. Ebenezer Baptist Church, where for eight years he shared the pulpit with his father, is a short walk away at the corner of Auburn and Jackson. Next door to the church, a memorial park surrounds King's crypt, nestled in a reflecting pool. Across from the church at 449 Auburn is the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc., which continues King's legacy and work.
The historic districts included in the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site and Preservation District were the center of life for Atlanta's African American community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Auburn Avenue was the main thoroughfare through the area, and the phenomenal growth of black businesses along the avenue led to it being called "the richest Negro street in the world." Following the Civil War, African Americans built businesses, residences, social and educational buildings, and churches along Auburn Avenue, and nearby streets. Many of these buildings remain today vital parts of the community such as the one occupied by the National Divine Spiritual Church at 18 Jackson Street, which started life as a two-story house in the first decade of the 20th century.
Although King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, his international stature did not preclude his involvement with local issues. For example, he joined students in a fall 1960 sit-in at Rich's Department Store--an event that landed him in jail for the first time. On another occasion in late 1964, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, headquartered in the Sweet Auburn Historic District, sided with black workers against Scripto, Inc., manufacturer of pencils and pens. At issue was a wage increase given to skilled workers, mostly white, but not to unskilled workers, largely black.
After King was assassinated, his body lay in state at Spelman College. Ralph Abernathy, who had been with King since the Montgomery Bus Boycott, conducted the April 9 funeral service at Ebenezer attended by civil rights leaders, black entertainers and athletes and the four presidential candidates--Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, Robert Kennedy, and Eugene McCarthy. More than 60,000 people listened over loudspeakers outside, and as many as 50,000 joined in the funeral procession afterwards. King's casket was borne by a mule-driven farm cart, symbolizing his support of the rights of poor people.
The Martin Luther King, Jr., Historic Site and Preservation District is roughly bounded by Irwin Avenue and Courtland, Randolph, and Chamberlain Streets. The National Park Service's Visitor Center, at 450 Auburn Avenue, NE, features exhibits about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement. The park is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm; hours from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, 9:00 am to 6:00 pm; closed Thanksgiving Day, December 25, and January 1. Call 404-331-5190, or click here for more information.