The family home of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. 
Photo: Contributed: Atlanta Preservation Center
Photo: Contributed: Atlanta Preservation Center

Sunset Ave. home of King family becomes part of National Park Service

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last home on Atlanta’s Sunset Avenue is now part of the National Park Service and will - at some point - be open to visitors.

The National Park Foundation, National Park Service, and King family announced on Thursday that the four-bedroom Vine City home will become part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park.

Bernice King, CEO of the King Center and youngest daughter of the King family, said she hoped that people will now gain “greater insight into my father holistically.” 

The family moved into the home in 1965. 

The National Park Foundation purchased the home, via private philanthropy, from the estate of Coretta Scott King on Jan. 8 and immediately transferred it to the National Park Service.

National Park Foundation President Will Shafroth called public access to the Sunset Avenue home “priceless.”

People all over the world “learn about the important story of your family...This is a powerful piece of history that must be preserved for future generations.”

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Sunset Avenue is where Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King raised their four children. It was a place where other civil rights leaders gathered and held strategy sessions.

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It was also where the Kings became a normal family. They shared meals and said grace around the dinner table. They played in the backyard or challenged each other during board games. It was where they played the piano. They celebrated holidays and special occasions.

Monday’s holiday commemorated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. The annual commemorative service was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and featured remarks by Rev. Bernice King, King’s daughter. (Photo by Annie Rice / For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: Annie Rice/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Bernice King remembers her father putting her on the refrigerator and letting her jump into his arms. She would plant a kiss in her special “sugar spot” on his forehead.

It was a space where the King children were encouraged to ask questions and learn about the world around them.

Those everyday things “were very important to our development as a family.”

Bernice King, 55, said the home provided refuge for her father, who was on the road a lot.

The home was in her mother’s name. Her father, King said, struggled with the notion of owning anything.

Her mother, though, convinced him that every wife wanted a home and that should something happen to him, they would need a permanent place to live.

In this March 17, 1963, file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, sit with three of their four children in their Atlanta, Ga., home. From left are: Martin Luther King III, 5, Dexter Scott, 2, and Yolanda Denise, 7.y (AP Photo/Robert Ray)

The last person to live at the home was her mother, who moved to a condo on Peachtree Road in 2004. She died in 2006. The family, though, continued to own the home.

 After her mother’s death, Bernice King said she and her siblings had to go through the grieving process and part of that “was letting things go.”

Over the years it was tough emotionally to consider parting with the home, but its something her mother had talked about doing to preserve it for others to share and visit.

“It was a struggle coming to grips of not having the home anymore the way that we had it,” she said.

What helped was the knowledge that that area is undergoing a major revitalization.

“It was the right time,” she said. 

It made sense to work with the park service, which has the expertise of historic preservation.

Park officials said it could be at least a year before the public can view the home where King and his family lived. There’s work to be done on the structure to make the home ready for the large volume of visitors who want to experience the personal side of the civil rights leader.

The acquisition of the family home follows the National Park Foundation’s purchase and transfer of Dr. King’s birth home on Auburn Ave. in late 2018. That home has been open to visitors for decades.

After his assassination on April 4, 1968, Coretta Scott King and their children continued to live in the Sunset Ave. home.

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