Tourists from all over came out to honor Dr. King on the 50th anniversary of his death.

King District remains closed at busiest time of year

Government shutdown running up against upcoming holiday observances to honor civil rights icon

Of all the days, or all the years, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is kind of a big deal for the folks who run the namesake’s national park in downtown Atlanta.

In fact, last year, on the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, hundreds of thousands of people flocked to and through the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, which is run by the National Park Service.

But this year, with an end to the federal government shutdown nowhere in site, the Park is likely to be dark as the world celebrates would what have been King’s 90th birthday.

“All of the park’s services will remain closed unless there is an approved budget,” Park Superintendent Judy Forte said. “We are just waiting.”

Park Superintendent Judy Forte said “We are just waiting,” for the government to re-open the national park. Joe Cook National Park Service
Photo: Joe Cook, NPS photo

Now in its third week, the shutdown was triggered by President Trump when he rejected a spending package from Congress to fund the government until February because it didn’t include $5 billion for a wall on the border with Mexico.

More than 800,000 federal workers across nine different departments are affected. This includes the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, State, Transportation, Treasury and the Interior, which included 401 units of the National Park Service.

Unless something changes – and as it has been since the shutdown began – visitors would not be able to enter and tour the birth home of Martin Luther King Jr., which was completely refurbished in 2017 to fix wear and tear and to prepare for larger anticipated crowds in 2018.

They will not be able to visit historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King co-pastored for eight years with his father, and where his mother was assassinated. They will not be able to visit the museum to study King’s life and view the mule-drawn carriage that carried his body through the streets of Atlanta on the day of his 1968 funeral.

“This is usually an extremely busy time of the year for us,” Forte said. “We normally expect visitation to pick up. In addition to the crowds that we were expecting for the Super Bowl.”

In 2018, thousands of people visited  Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth home on Auburn Avenue. Tours normally guided by park rangers have been put on hold during the government shutdown. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, William Pate, president and CEO of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, acknowledged the impact that the shutdown is having on this slice of Atlanta tourism, while promoting other venues.

“Atlanta is proud to serve as the cradle of the American civil rights movement,” Pate said. “While the temporary closure of Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park hinders the experience our guests hoped for during their visit, our city is fortunate to have many other civil rights tourism experiences available, including Center for Civil and Human Rights, APEX Museum and The King Center.”

Because King District is essentially an urban campus, visitors will actually get a partial experience upon visiting. The King Center, which is run by the King Family, remains open. So visitors continue to go inside and would still be able to visit the crypts of Coretta and Martin Luther King Jr.

Aimedra Kelley, a spokesperson for the King Center, said plans for the organization are going as scheduled. Across the street, Ebenezer Baptist Church-Horizon Sanctuary has remained open for Sunday services and will still host the annual King Day ecumenical service.

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