King birth home to re-open in time for holiday celebration

Parts of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth home will re-open on Monday, just in time for a rush of tourists in town celebrating the civil rights icon’s birthday.

The 122-year-old house has been closed since August for repairs. But Judy Forte, superintendent of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, said the first floor will be open for tours.

The upper floors remain closed and under repair.

“Other areas are still under assessment,” Forte said. “We are excited that a full condition assessment of the entire home is scheduled in the near future to ensure the preservation and protection of this national treasure for future generations.

The home was closed last fall for safety reasons after structural damage was found in the floors.

A two-story frame house built in the Queen Anne style, the home is in the heart of the King National Historic Site and generally attracts between 700,000 and a million visitors a year.

It was built in 1895 at 501 Auburn Ave. for a white family and purchased for $3,500 in 1909 by King’s maternal grandfather, the Rev. Adam Daniel Williams, who was the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Forte said the full restoration of the home is scheduled to be completed by 2018, which would be the 50th anniversary of the King’s assassination.

Significant dates in King’s life attract more visitors to all of the sites, Forte said.

No date is bigger than Jan. 15, King’s actual birthday, and Jan. 16, which is when his national holiday will be observed.

Forte's announcement came in the middle of a press conference organized by King Center CEO Bernice King to announce all of the events that the Center, as well as the King Historic District will be doing for the holiday.

Aside from the traditional Salute to Greatness Awards Gala on Saturday and the Commemorative Service Monday morning, a new major event will debut.

Coming on the heels of a contentious 2016 political season and recent years of social unrest, King has added a Monday night forum that she said would be a “a space to have difficult, yet needed, conversations.”

She said “Beloved Community Talk: Let’s Bridge the Racial Divide Across Urban, Suburban and Rural America,” – which will feature civil rights activists, as well as former members of white supremacist groups, was two years in the making.

“The country is becoming more polarized and that is dangerous,” King said. “We’ve got to interject ourselves and give people an idea of how this will work. We are going to have to take a higher ground in order to move.”

Another highlight this year will be the debut of a new Coretta Scott King memoir, written by Barbara Reynolds.

Reynolds and Bernice King will discuss the project at a book signing on Jan. 13.

At Saturday’s Salute to Greatness Dinner, the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, actor Edward James Olmos and Costco will be honored. Father Michael Pfleger, the firebrand Catholic priest out of Chicago, will deliver the keynote address at Monday’s Commemorative Service.

For more information on all of the King Center events, visit their website.

You can also find information about all of the scheduled events sponsored by the National Park Service on their site.