The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site is celebrating a milestone as Georgia’s first National Historical Park. The announcement comes as the nation observes this year’s MLK National Holiday and the 50th anniversary of the civil rights leader’s death. The historic site will be the first national park honoring an African American.
President Trump signed the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park Act into law on Jan. 8, a week before the King holiday. The president was on his way to visit Atlanta to attend the national college championship football game when he signed the new law as King’s niece, Alveda King, witnessed the signing aboard Air Force One, the White House said.
Congressman John Lewis, who sponsored the legislation, praised the new law. The bill took Congress four years to pass. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill on Jan. 4, 2017, and the U.S. Senate adopted the legislation on Dec. 27, 2017.
“I am so proud that we were able to work in a bipartisan, bicameral manner to establish Georgia’s first National Historical Park in Dr. King’s name and legacy before what would be his 89th birthday and the 50th anniversary of his tragic assassination,” said Lewis, who sponsored the bill and who represents Georgia’s Fifth District, which includes the park. “I hope that this moment will serve as a reminder of the constant work to realize Dr. King’s dream of building the Beloved Community — a community at peace with itself and our neighbors.”
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. He was 39 years old. This year also marks the 50-year anniversary that Coretta Scott King founded the King Center to carry on his legacy.
Judy Forte, superintendent of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, said the park’s new designation elevates its status. Now, as a national park attracting some 700,000 documented visitors annually, it can attract even more visitors to the Sweet Auburn District.
“I am so happy that we finally got the new designation. It means a lot and will enable us to tell the complete story and have the historic fabric and the resources to do that,” said Superintendent Forte who said the auspicious news “comes on the eve of us commemorating the fiftieth-year anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination,”.
“Our theme this year is ‘MLK 50 Forward: Together we win with love for humanity.’…We are going to use this as a moment to talk about the future and how we’re going to take his life and legacy and advance it forward. I think moving from a historic site to a national historical park falls right in place with that 50 forward.”
Forte said that while the new designation does not garner extra funding, the park’s resources will expand to include the Prince Hall Masonic Building on Auburn Avenue which operated as the first headquarters for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference where King served as SCLC’s founding president. The transition from historic site to historical park will also include new interstate signage along with park entryways, buildings, brochures and all media reflecting the park’s name change. Forte said that the historical park will roll out the park’s new name at a forthcoming community event.