Birth Home Of Martin Luther King Jr. Opens After Repairs In Time For Holiday

Jan 15, 2017
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today you probably know is the actual birthday of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Although tomorrow is the day the U.S. honors his contributions to the country and the world. And this means it is a busy time in Atlanta, his hometown. Now, Atlanta always hosts a series of events honoring the late civil rights icon from a march to a commemorative church service. And now after months of repairs, the home where King grew up is once again open to visitors. From Georgia Public Broadcasting, Bradley George reports.

BRADLEY GEORGE, BYLINE: Not far from the skyscrapers of downtown Atlanta, the Sweet Auburn neighborhood has been a center of life for the city's African-American community for over a century. It's also where Martin Luther King, Jr. was born and raised. The neighborhood is a living museum to his life and legacy.

A streetcar stops in front of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King and his father were pastors. Next door is the King Center, the final resting place for the civil rights leader and his wife Coretta. And on the next block is where Martin Luther King, Jr. was born and spent the first 12 years of his life. And for tourists, it's been a popular spot for decades.

JUDY FORTE: Because of the holiday weekend, we really do open house and the lines are all along the sidewalk.

GEORGE: Judy Forte is superintendent of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. The two-story Queen Anne home at 501 Auburn Avenue was built in 1895. The family of King's mother, Alberta, bought the house 11 years later. Martin Luther King, Sr. moved in after marrying Alberta in 1926. The home state in the King family for the next four decades became a museum after King, Jr.'s assassination in 1968. Those visiting in the last few months haven't been able to see inside the house. It closed in August after rangers from the National Park Service made an alarming discovery.

FORTE: We were taking a group of visitors through the birth home, and while they were standing there in the parlor, one of the joists underneath the house sort of broke away and the floor sort of dropped a couple of inches.

GEORGE: No one was injured in that incident, but Forte says the weight of thousands of sightseers over the decades likely took a toll on the 122-year-old wooden floor. The house closed for repairs and work was finished in time for Martin Luther King Day weekend. Forte says visitors need to see where King grew up to understand how he became a force for social change.

FORTE: The birth home is important because it takes you back to him as a child and how important his family environment was and the development of him as a great leader for the Civil Rights movement.

GEORGE: That includes the dinner table at his boyhood home where a 6-year-old King first learned about segregation.

RANGER JENKINS: Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Good morning.

RANGER JENKINS: How's everybody doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Good.

RANGER JENKINS: My name's Ranger Jenkins, and I welcome you all to the Martin Luther King National Historic Site.

GEORGE: Park rangers encourage parents to take time to have meaningful conversations with their children. For now, tours include only the first floor of the King home because of the repairs to the second floor. The Park Service hopes to finish it next year, the 50th anniversary of King's death. For NPR News, I'm Bradley George in Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY")

STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) Thanks to Martin Luther King. Happy Birthday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.