Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in this two-story Queen Anne-style house on January 15, 1929, the oldest son of a Baptist minister and an elementary-school music teacher. His childhood was a normal one. He preferred baseball to piano lessons, liked to play board games, and got a kick out of tearing the heads off his older sister's dolls (nonviolence came later). To quote his sister, Christine King Farris, "My brother was no saint ordained at birth; instead he was an average and ordinary man, called by . . . God . . . to perform extraordinary deeds."
King lived here through the age of 12, and then moved with his family to a house a few blocks away. A visit provides many insights into the formative influences on one of the greatest leaders of our time. The Rev. A. D. Williams, King's maternal grandfather and pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, bought the house in 1909. Reverend Williams was active not only in the church but in the community and in early manifestations of the civil rights movement. He was a charter member of Atlanta's NAACP and led a series of black registration and voting drives as far back as 1917. He was instrumental in getting black officers onto the Atlanta police force. Martin Luther King, Sr., moved in on Thanksgiving Day 1926, when he married Williams's daughter Alberta. When Reverend Williams died in 1931, King became head of the household and took over Williams's pulpit at Ebenezer Church.
The King family retained ownership of the house at 501 Auburn Ave. even after they moved away. King's younger brother, Alfred Daniel, lived here with his family from 1954 to 1963. In 1971, King's mother deeded the home to the King Center. It has since been restored to its appearance during the years of King's boyhood. The furnishings are all originals or period reproductions, and some personal items belonging to the family are on display. Christine was actively involved in the restoration, providing a wealth of detail about the former appearance of the house, as well as anecdotal material about life in the King family.
Tours of the house, conducted by national park rangers, begin in the downstairs parlor, where you'll see family photographs showing Martin Luther as a child. The parlor was used for choir practice, for the dreaded piano lessons, and as a rec room where the family gathered around the radio to listen to shows like The Shadow. In the dining room, world events were regularly discussed over meals, and every Sunday before dinner, each child was required to recite a newly learned Bible verse from memory. You'll also see the coal cellar (stoking coal was one of King's childhood chores); the children's play area; the upstairs bedroom of King's parents, in which Christine, Martin Luther, and Alfred Daniel were born; Reverend Williams's den, where the family gathered for nightly Bible study; the bedroom King shared with his brother ("always in disarray," says Christine); and Christine's bedroom.
Note: In summer, especially, tickets often run out early; for your best chance at touring the home, arrive at 9am.