Commencement speaker billionaire Robert F. Smith announces he is paying all student debt for the Class of 2019 during the Morehouse College graduation ceremony In Atlanta, Sunday, May 19, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: Steve Schaefer
Photo: Steve Schaefer

Before Morehouse gift, billionaire Robert Smith donated money to buy MLK birth home

You would think pledging to pay off the loans of the 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College would be enough, but actually  billionaire technology investor Robert F. Smith’s investment in Atlanta didn’t start there.

Smith, who founded Vista Equity Partners, announced on Sunday during commencement exercises that he and his family would establish a grant to the Atlanta HBCU’s graduates to wipe out their debt, which some estimated could reach well into the millions of dollars.

RelatedMorehouse commencement speaker to pay off loans for 2019 graduating class

Smith also donated money  to buy the Queen Anne style birth home of Martin Luther King Jr. at 501 Auburn Avenue for the National Park Service. He donated the money to the National Park Foundation.

Bernice King,  the youngest daughter of the late civil rights leader, took to Twitter onSunday to praise Smith’s actions at Morehouse.

“Wow. What a love-power move by Robert Smith. I believe it’s the start of something major. I’m grateful for what Mr. Smith, who purchased my father’s birth home for the National Park Service, is doing for @Morehouse, which happens to be Daddy’s alma mater,” King tweeted.

Smith could not be reached for comment.

In a Facebook post celebrating her cousin’s graduation from Spelman College, King said Smith was “truly inspirational. He’s got a genuine heart. He’s going to do so much for the African-American community.”


The National Park Foundation, in a statement issued last year, said the organization “facilitated through private philanthropy the purchase of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth home and its immediate transfer to the National Park Service.”

The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change Inc., negotiated a sale of the property, which has been under the control of the King family for decades.

According to a previous article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the birth home was built in 1895 for a white family and bought for $3,500 in 1909 by King’s maternal grandfather, the Rev. Adam Daniel Williams, who was then pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church.

RelatedFoundation buy King’s Vine City home

The King Center also confirmed that Smith donated the money to the National Park Service Foundation to buy the Vine City home of King and his family.

A spokesman for the National Park Foundation confirmed both donations. At the time of the Vine City announcement, Smith's identity was not publicly disclosed.

The King family sold the Sunset Avenue house to the National Park Foundation for $400,000. The house will be turned over to the National Park Service as part of Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, its doors eventually opening to visitors.

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