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Martin Luther King Jr.’s Family Home to Open to the Public

The property was recently purchased by the National Park Foundation

(Katie Bricker Photography for the National Park Foundation)
smithsonian.com

During the three years leading up to his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. lived with his family in a modest brick house in Atlanta’s Vine City neighborhood. His wife, Coretta Scott King, continued to live there until 2004, at which point it was used by the King family as an office, according to Shelia M. Poole and Ernie Suggs of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Now, the home is due to open to the public for the first time, following its acquisition by the National Park Foundation.

The foundation, which is the official charity of the National Park Service, announced last month that it had purchased the house from the estate of Coretta Scott King, subsequently transferring the property to the park service.

The four-bedroom house will be part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park (formerly a National Historic Site), which encompasses several buildings and sites in Atlanta,

“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,” Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation, said in a statement.

This marks the second time in recent weeks that the foundation has acquired a property connected to King. In December of last year, it bought the two-story house where the civil rights icon was born, and where he lived for 12 years with his parents and grandparents. That home had been owned by the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Because the property was included among the buildings that made up what was then the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, according to Mihir Zaveri of the New York Times, the park service had been able to offer tours in the house since 1984.

The King family home in Vine City, by contrast, was not accessible to the public, and it will open to tours for the first time, though it could take more than a year to get the house ready for visitors, Will Shafroth, CEO of the National Park Foundation, tells Poole and Suggs.

King, his wife and four children moved into the house in 1965, and purchased the property one year later. It was at this site, located at 234 Sunset Avenue, that mourners flocked to comfort King’s family in the wake of his assassination in 1968. Robert Kennedy, Jesse Jackson and Richard Nixon were among those who stopped by to pay their respects, according to the Washington Post’s Michael E. Ruane. Jackie Kennedy, whose own husband had been assassinated only a few years earlier, embraced Coretta Scott King in her bedroom, Rebecca Burns writes in Burial for a King.

Though King didn’t live in the house for long, his daughter Bernice King tells Poole and Suggs that their time there was like that of any other “normal family.” They played basketball in the backyard and ate meals together in the dining room. Sometimes, she would jump off the kitchen refrigerator, with her dad waiting to catch her below. The other recently acquired property is known as King’s “birth home”; but this site on Sunset Avenue, Bernice King says, was the family’s “life home.”

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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