Georgia: Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site

King Birth Home
The King Birth Home is open only for ticketed tours. King was born here in 1929 and lived

Courtesy of the National Park Service

Many of the landmarks of one of America’s greatest advocates for social change are within the span of a few short blocks along Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in this neighborhood in 1929, lived there during his childhood and part of his adult life, and is buried near his childhood home and the church where he, his father, and grandfather preached. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site traces the life of a remarkable man who helped to change the course of American history through nonviolent social protest that was the foundation for the successes of the modern Civil Rights Movement to provide African Americans their rightful place in American society.

King was born in a frame house at 501 Auburn Avenue. 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 Avenue 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.

Visitors to the park should plan to begin their visit at the visitor center where they can learn more about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement through a number of exhibitions and short films. Visitors may also tour an outdoor Peace Plaza with a garden and reflection fountain and walk the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. From the visitor center, walk through the Auburn Avenue neighborhood that was so central to King’s life. Landmarks that are open to the public include the home where King was born at 501 Auburn Avenue, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Fire Station Number 6, and the King Center. The King Center displays artifacts from King’s life at Freedom Hall and is adjacent to the gravesite of Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. grew up in the Auburn Avenue community of Atlanta. Born on January 15, 1929 in the home shared by his grandparents and parents, King lived there until he was 12. King stayed in Atlanta until he graduated from Morehouse College. After his graduation, he served as a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church while enrolled at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. He continued on to Boston University and received a PhD in 1955. In Boston, King met and married Coretta Scott. After leaving Boston University, King became a pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. This put King in the right place at the right time to be able to help lead the famous bus boycott in Montgomery. Touched off in part by Rosa Parks, the 381-day boycott launched King to the front of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

King soon was speaking and leading protests across the country, including the 1963 March on Washington at which he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1964, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded Dr. King the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. King’s actions helped to bring about the Civil Rights Act of 1963 and the Voting Rights Act of 1964. While continuing the fight for equality and civil rights in Memphis, Tennessee, he died at the hand of assassin, James Earl Ray, who shot him on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968. Following his death, Dr. King’s body returned to Auburn Avenue for his funeral and burial.

The Auburn neighborhood, also known as “Sweet Auburn,” is close to the city center of Atlanta and was primarily African American during King’s lifetime. Other families, a variety of businesses, several churches, and a firehouse were all part of the Auburn Avenue of King’s childhood. His parents, Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams, moved to the neighborhood soon after their marriage and lived with her parents at 501 Auburn Avenue. Though they initially intended to stay only briefly, the Kings continued to live with the Williams from 1925 until the 1930s. King’s boyhood home dates from 1895. The interior of the home reflects the way it looked when he and his siblings, Christine and Alfred Daniel, lived there.

The King family's connection to the neighborhood continued when Alberta Williams’ father, a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, helped Reverend King, Sr. become an assistant pastor. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. also helped lead the church from 1960 until his death in 1968. Dr. King’s funeral took place in the sanctuary on April 9, 1968. The church also served as a meeting space for many of the organizations with which Dr. King was involved, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The historic Fire Station No. 6 just west of the King Birth Home appears as it did during the time King was growing up in Sweet Auburn. Built in 1894, Fire Station No. 6 is one of the earliest firehouses in Atlanta and served as an active station until 1991. Visitors may walk through the station and learn more about the integration of the fire department in Atlanta. Dr. King’s tomb and an eternal flame dedicated to his memory also lie along Auburn Avenue. Nearby is the King Center, containing artifacts and exhibits on Dr. King and other prominent social activists.

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System, is located at 450 Auburn Ave., NE in Atlanta, GA, with parking on John Wesley Dobbs Avenue. The site has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for National Register of Historic Places registration file: text and photos.  The park is open from 9:00am to 6:00pm in the summer and from 9:00am to 5:00 in the winter. Visitation within the park is largely self-guided, although the King Birth Home is only open for ticketed ranger-led tours. Admission to the park and parking are free. For more information, visit the National Park Service Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site website or call 404-331-5190.

Several properties within the park have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey, including 514 Auburn Avenue472-550 Auburn Avenue and 39 Boulevard Avenue, the Brown-Hayes Department Store526 Auburn AvenueEbenezer Baptist Church, the Smith-Charleston House, and the King Birth House. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site is also featured in the National Park Service We Shall Overcome: Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement Travel Itinerary.

Last updated: August 4, 2017