Martin Luther King, Jr.
Historic Resource Study
NPS Logo

Chapter Two:


Ebenezer Baptist Church, at 407-413 Auburn Avenue, is the only Site property associated with this context.


Most of the civil rights campaigns led by Martin Luther King, Jr., occurred outside Atlanta. Atlanta, however, was the headquarters of the SCLC, which King led from 1957 until his death, and King's home and base of operations from 1960 to 1968. During that period, King co-pastored at Ebenezer Baptist Church, participated in desegregation protests in the fall of 1960, and supported the 1964 strike at Scripto, Inc. Except for a brief period when they were in an office building at 43 Exchange Place in downtown Atlanta, SCLC offices have been on Auburn Avenue, first at 208 Auburn and currently at 334 Auburn in the Prince Hall Masonic Temple building, outside the Site but within the Preservation District. [81]

Ebenezer Baptist Church is closely associated with Martin Luther King, Jr.'s leadership of the American Civil Rights Movement. From 1955 to 1960, Martin Luther King, Sr., was Ebenezer's pastor, but his son, Martin Luther King, Jr., preached occasional guest sermons. From 1960 to April 1968, King, Jr., served as co pastor of Ebenezer, usually preaching one or two sermons a month and performing pastoral duties. As Dr. King's national and international reputation grew, his sermons and speeches, which articulated his views on civil rights and other national issues, received increased attention from the press.

The SCLC was founded at meetings held at Ebenezer Baptist Church in January 1957. From 1957 to 1968, the church was the site of numerous SCLC executive staff and governing board meetings, as well as the 1967 SCLC annual convention. Ebenezer's large education building was especially useful for SCLC meetings. King attended an SCLC executive staff meeting at Ebenezer on March 30, 1968, less than a week before his death. Ebenezer's auditorium was used for rallies and mass meetings concerning local civil rights issues. On December 20, 1964, King addressed a meeting of striking black Scripto employees at Ebenezer. [82]

Ebenezer Baptist Church also symbolizes the crucial role of black ministers and black churches in the Civil Rights Movement. Black clergymen were prominent leaders of the movement and the dominant force behind the SCLC. Most affiliate members of SCLC were black church groups across the South. In almost all southern communities where civil rights campaigns were launched, black churches served as meeting places and command posts. [83] The Civil Rights Movement drew on the idealism, prestige, and organizational strengths of the southern black church. The participation of black ministers and congregations gave the Civil Rights Movement a mass base not present in earlier civil rights efforts. Before the 1950s, black lawyers, teachers, and other professionals had spearheaded attacks on segregation. The church drew members from across class lines and provided the numbers needed for effective mass action. Ebenezer Baptist is a physical reminder of the role black churches and ministers played in achieving for blacks the right to vote and ending racial segregation in public places in America.

The Scripto buildings along Houston Street are not eligible under this context. [84] King and SCLC supported the striking black workers in 1964, but King's involvement on the picket line at the plant was minimal, amounting to 30 minutes on a single day at an undetermined location. The oldest portion of the Scripto complex at 423 Houston (built 1931) was likely not the focus of picketing activities, which seemed to center on a plant entrance on Irwin Street. King indicated his strike support most forcefully at a rally at Ebenezer and in his efforts to organize a boycott of Scripto products. Because of the rally, Ebenezer, a nationally significant resource under this context, is a resource that better represents King's role in the Scripto strike than the surviving plant buildings.

Ebenezer Baptist Church is also locally significant under Criterion C (see chapter 3 below).


Ebenezer Baptist Church is a religious property and eligible for the National Register only if its primary significance derives from its architectural, artistic, or historical importance. Its listing is clearly justified by its historic importance in connection with the Civil Rights Movement and the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Although religious leaders figured prominently in the movement, they focused their efforts on political and social change.

A property significant for historical associations under Criteria A and B must retain the essential physical characteristics that defined its appearance during its association with the historic person or events. Ebenezer Baptist Church possesses integrity of location, design, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. The church also possesses substantial integrity of setting, although land use in the immediately surrounding area changed after 1968, with the construction of the King Center and a community center. The church is still used by the same congregation that built the structure. The exterior materials of the church, stucco and brick, are original. The addition to the chancel at the south end of the church, completed in 1970, has little visual impact and is not visible from Auburn Avenue. A new facade, erected in 1971, altered the appearance of the education building, but the building retains the same functions.

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s remains were moved to the King Center on Auburn Avenue in 1971. King's marble tomb was constructed in 1976, and the surrounding King Center complex was completed in 1981. Although the grave site falls outside of the period of significance for this context, the 1980 legislation that established the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site included the place "where he is buried" among the resources to be protected and interpreted for future generations. [85] King's national importance, the clear Congressional intent to include the existing grave site, and the grave site's contribution to the commemorative purpose of the Site make it a nationally significant resource eligible under National Register Criterion B. [86] These factors also satisfy the requirements of Criteria Consideration C, which ordinarily. excludes graves from eligibility. Although the grave site is less than fifty years old, it is of exceptional importance and therefore meets the standard of Criteria Consideration G, which governs properties that have achieved significance within the last fifty years. The grave site retains all aspects of integrity. A description of the grave site appears in Appendix B.


Ebenezer Baptist Church (1914-1922, 1956)
Martin Luther King, Jr., Grave Site (1976)


Scripto, Inc., 423 Houston Street (1931)


Secondary sources on the Civil Rights Movement clearly establish that Ebenezer Baptist Church was frequently used for important staff and board meetings of the SCLC and occasionally for rallies and other gatherings connected with the Civil Rights Movement. Additional research in the extensive archives of the SCLC deposited at the King Center Library is recommended to more firmly establish the dates and purposes of these meetings.

A historic structure report should be prepared for Ebenezer Baptist Church, which is the major Site resource for the Civil Rights context.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>
Last Updated: 26-Oct-2002