Since it is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States this coming Monday, and since it is his birthday, I wanted to write about his birth home. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He lived in the home of his birth for the first twelve years of his life. Today, the home is owned by the National Park Service, where park rangers give free, 30-minute tours to visitors. Although people cannot visit the home in person currently, because of COVID-19, park rangers are providing free virtual tours to organized groups.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is best known for his prominent role in the African American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. His work helped pave the way for the U.S. government to pass both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Not everyone appreciated his activism. On April 4, 1968, a man named James Earl Ray assassinated King in Memphis, Tennessee.
King’s home is a popular tourist destination, so those wanting a free tour should come early in the morning. Only fifteen people can join a tour at a time, and it is based on a first-come, first-served basis. My tour guide tried his best to give my group a personal experience. Before we began, he asked each of us on the tour where we were from, perhaps to help us feel more comfortable to ask questions.
As we went through the two-story home, we learned more about the history of the King family, especially regarding King’s childhood. My tour guide informed us that the stories he told us were based on what he had learned from speaking with King’s older sister, Christine, who is still alive today (as of January, 2021). The way the National Park decorated the home is also based on Christine’s memories. She has been an invaluable resource to them.
About a block away from King’s home is the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King’s grandfather and father both served as pastors. King also co-served there with his father when he was younger. Eventually, King earned a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University, and then became the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Like King’s birth home, the Ebenezer Baptist Church is also owned by the National Park Service. Visitors are welcome to enter it. King gave his first sermon there, and his funeral was also held there. Today, this historic church is only used on special occasions, while a newer building across the street is typically used by the congregation instead. King’s sister is still a member of that congregation.
In addition to King’s birth home and church, the National Park Service also maintains a visitor center, which has a little museum that tells the story of King and the Civil Rights movement. Not far from there are the graves of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King. A fountain surrounds their graves, providing a peaceful resting place to a man who lived during turbulent times.
Sources and Further Reading
“Martin Luther King, Jr. Birth Home.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/malu/planyourvisit/birth-home.htm (accessed January 13, 2021).
“Martin Luther King, Jr. Birth Home Tours.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/malu/planyourvisit/birth_home_tours.htm (accessed January 13, 2021).
“Martin Luther King, Jr. Current Conditions.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/malu/planyourvisit/conditions.htm (accessed January 13, 2021).
“Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/atlanta/kin.htm#:~:text=King%20was%20born%20in%20an,Auburn%20Avenue%20and%20Jackson%20Street. National Park Service. (accessed January 13, 2021).