But when the actress turned 55 last week, the story started recirculating and quickly went viral.
“Martin Luther King Jr paying for her birth is still a little known fact that sends me,” Twitter account @turnandstomp posted on October 21. (The account followed up the next day: “Correction: He and Coretta both paid!”) On October 28, consultant Zara Rahim retweeted the post, adding a video clip of Roberts speaking with journalist Gayle King at an event earlier this year.
Today is Julia Roberts birthday! 55 years ago MLK and Coretta Scott King paid for her parents hospital bill after she was born. Can’t stop thinking about this since I read it. Here she is talking about it with @GayleKing https://t.co/5HvpNSUIYb pic.twitter.com/147x6d807W— Zara Rahim (@ZaraRahim) October 28, 2022
“My parents had a theater school in Atlanta called the Actors and Writers Workshop,” Roberts said at the event. “And one day Coretta Scott King called my mother and asked if her kids could be part of the school because they were having a hard time finding a place that would accept her kids. And my mom was like, ‘Sure, come on over.’” After that, the two families formed a friendship.
In 1967, Julia Roberts was born in Smyrna, Georgia. And when her parents, Walter and Betty Roberts, couldn’t afford to pay the bill, the Kings stepped in, the actress said. “They helped us out of a jam.”
While the story is currently making headlines, Julia Roberts’ relationship with the Kings has been discussed before, writes the Washington Post’s Sydney Page. In a 2001 CNN special, the Kings’ oldest child, Yolanda King, spoke about her experience at the Roberts’ theater school. She said that all of the children got along well, and that she learned a lot from the Roberts family.
“Mr. Roberts was so imposing,” she said. “I loved him, but I was also a little intimidated by him, too. I mean, he taught me so much—he and Mrs. Roberts—about the work, and just about living and being really open, grabbing life and making the best of it.”
Another former student, author Phillip DePoy, recounted his experience at the school in a 2013 essay for Arts ATL. When he was 15, he and Yolanda King kissed while rehearsing a scene. A “tangential member of the Ku Klux Klan” saw the kiss, and the next day someone blew up a car outside the school, he wrote. “I was primarily Caucasian and Yolanda wasn’t. That’s what the trouble was about.”
During the interview with Julia Roberts, Gayle King commended her parents for cultivating a welcoming, integrated space in Atlanta during a time defined by racial injustice.
“In the ’60s you didn’t have little Black children interacting with little white kids in acting school. And your parents were like, ‘Come on in,” she said. “I think that's extraordinary, and it sort of lays the groundwork for who you are.”
As the video clip circulated, Bernice King—the youngest child of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King—tweeted: “Grateful that #JuliaRoberts shared this story with @GayleKing and that so many people have been awed by it. I know the story well, but it is moving for me to be reminded of my parents’ generosity and influence.”