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Bernice King defends pending demolition of 220 Sunset Ave.

Bernice and Martin III Bernice King and her brother, Martin Luther King III, answer questions from reporters in April 2018 at the King Center (Photo by Maria Saporta)

By Maria Saporta

Bernice King, the CEO of the King Center, issued a statement Monday afternoon defending the decision to seek a demolition permit for the three-story building at 220 Sunset Ave. where Atlanta’s first black mayor – Maynard Jackson Jr. – once lived.

In an earlier story, Vine City residents expressed concern that the proposed demolition would destroy an important part of the community’s history.

The King Center has owned the building for nearly 50 years. A warranty deed shows that the Martin Luther King Fund bought the property for $10 from Southern Rural Action in October, 1070. It is not known when the Jackson family sold the building, even though some Vine City residents have said the Jacksons owned it until the late 1960s.

What is known is that 220 Sunset is adjacent to the last home where Martin Luther King Jr. lived until he was assassinated in 1968. The King family continued to live there for years, and it recently sold their home at 234 Sunset to the National Park Service.

Once the King family acquired 220 Sunset, it used the apartment building as the first offices of the King Center before the venue on Auburn Avenue was built in 1981.

Bernice and Martin III

Bernice King and her brother, Martin Luther King III, answer questions from reporters in April 2018 at the King Center (Photo by Maria Saporta)

The statement from Bernice King states that they are seeking to demolish the building because it’s beyond remediation. She also stated that the property is to be sold to the National Park Foundation after the building is demolished.

Here is Bernice King’s statement in full:

The King Center recently received approval from the City of Atlanta to demolish a four-unit apartment building that we own next door to the King family home in historic Vine City.  The building is being demolished because it is filled with asbestos, is structurally unsound, has a caved-in roof, unstable bearings and flooring, and rapidly decaying bricks.  The building is beyond remediation and needs to be demolished for the sake of public health and safety. 

The property is currently under conditional sale to the National Park Foundation, charitable partner of the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), who will in turn deed it to the NPS for the benefit of the public. It is our understanding that the NPS is committed to working with the community to determine the best use of the space in terms of public safety and heritage.

Last Friday, May 2nd, we were made of aware of concerns from members of the Vine City community about the planned demolition of the apartments.  We understand that the community’s concern is rooted in the fact that the family of Maynard Jackson, Sr., including his son the late Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, Jr., once resided in the apartments a few years in the 1950s.  The King Center had no knowledge of the Jackson family living at 220 Sunset Avenue and was unaware of the possible historical connection. Also, based on the City of Atlanta’s 2011 designation of Sunset Avenue as a historic street, the apartment building was reviewed and deemed only relevant to history because it temporarily housed The King Center at its inception while our founder, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, built our current site on Auburn Avenue.  Immediately upon learning of the possible historical connection, we consulted with the Jackson family, elders original to the community, and Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown and we all agree that the building should be demolished. We also consulted with the leadership of NPU-L on the concerns and needs of the community. 

As the organization founded by Mrs. King in 1968 to ensure the historic integrity and continuation of Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, we share a common concern and commitment with the community in preserving and perpetuating the history of the civil rights movement, the history of Atlanta, and Historic Vine City.  We do not wish to see the heritage of the community degraded by the transformation of the Westside.  That said, as a practical matter, the apartment building does need to be removed for the reasons stated.  Our commitment is to work with the community and the National Park Service to ensure that the historic interpretation of the neighborhood, including the Jackson family are maintained for current and future generations. We believe that the U.S. National Park Service is the best partner to ensure the history of Vine City is accurately preserved and promoted.

king home

Martin Luther King Jr.’s home with the Jackson apartment building in the background (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

220 Sunset Ave

The front entrance of 220 Sunset – a four unit apartment building built by the Jackson family (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

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Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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8 Comments

  1. urban gardener May 7, 2019 9:49 am

    What a joke
    The King Center has owned the structure for 50 years
    The roof is caved in, it’s structurally unsound, it’s full of asbestos…
    So what exactly has the King Center been doing for the past 50yrs of its stewardship? With funds received from the Federal Government?
    It could have started applying for grants to restore the building / deal with the asbestos years ago, before it intentionally let the roof rot to bits (that doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye so there is no other conclusion to draw other than intentional neglect), gutted and replaced rot, (treated for termites if warranted?), rebuilt brick walls, etc etc etc
    Or, they could have sold it, even approached the Georgia Historic Trust
    But nope! Let it rot, then cry “oh there’s nothing to be done”
    Except doing your job of stewardship (or just basic building ownership maintenance particularly as the hue and cry has only magnified for more affordable housing) for the past 50 yrs
    This building was well discussed internally by NPS staff 20yrs ago and leaked to the in the know preservation community when signals were first made of the possible sale of the Kings’ home to the Feds

    Words failReport

    Reply
    1. Molly Woo May 8, 2019 1:48 am

      Atlanta Activist John H. Lewis and other Vine City residents are now holding nightly vigils in front of the Jackson Home on Sunset Ave. at 7:00 PM to raise awareness of the need to save this landmark of Civil Rights History. For a glimpse into some of the history of the site see this brief interview with John and Monique Prather, two long-time residents of Vine City, recalling life with the Jackson Family on Sunset Avenue. https://youtu.be/mHdf8J014EMReport

      Reply
  2. Van Hall May 7, 2019 11:36 am

    220 Sunset Avenue has a place in the history of the Movement. I worked there in 1970-71 for the Southern Rural Action Project, located on the first two floors of the building. SRA was run by Randy Blackwell, former Program Director of SCLC, and was dedicated to building business enterprises (brick factories, house rafter prefab operations, soy cookie bakeries) in rural Alabama and Georgia. These businesses employed rural black citizens who were adversely affected by white reaction to the Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties, providing self-sufficiency and economic independence to those employed. Several of the enterprises he started still exist, in Crawfordsville and other places. Randy was a true visionary and stalwart of the Movement. I am so very proud to have worked for him.Report

    Reply
  3. Chris Johnston May 7, 2019 2:51 pm

    Another King family hypocrisy
    I suppose that obtaining a demolition permit is a condition of sale and the Kings want to push it through and get their money. It is all about getting their money.Report

    Reply
  4. Phillip Scott Wallace May 7, 2019 9:50 pm

    I’ll give $1000 for its preservation, which I cannot actually “afford” right now, but the offer is genuine nonetheless. I’ll pay off the credit card later. Because, heaven help me, I’m still an Atlanta patriot. and I think the town stronger with this house than without it.

    I think some funds could be easily found in this prosperous city and metro area and state to both renovate this house (surely Mitchell’s “The Dump” was in worse shape in 1994) and turn it into, say, free housing for visiting scholars to the King Park, or AUC, or Georgia Tech, or GSU. Or use it as housing for graduate students. Call then “Jakcson Scholars.” But the point is…”will”, “way”. If we have the first, we will get to the second.Report

    Reply
  5. Adrian L Santee May 8, 2019 9:34 pm

    great advice,and vision Mr. Phillip S. WallaceReport

    Reply
  6. Alma May 11, 2019 9:02 pm

    I am truly hurt about 220 Sunset and I Love and respect the King family with all my heart raise my baby reading and telling her the History of our great leader Dr.king. Every year I gather up a March though the community took some children that way and we stopped they didn’t even know so excited and over joy cause they was told about Auburn Ave and not Sunset. I am asking and pleading with the King family to please wait give the Community the opportunity try and fix this up for the sake of the Children Dr. king would have never turned his back on his followers the people whom still celebrate his name not only on Birthdays I still make sure the king lives cause he is within all of us. Don’t take the History and don’t let greed make y’all destroy your your father died for everything that’s evening destroy after awhile their going to go after the name and we want even have that they destroyed the bridge cut the head when they walked over the Community with Mercedes-Benz come on can’t y’all see do you care??? Please wake up all money is not good money but I will never turn on you all cause I know God will make away .Our History is for the hard work that our Leaders stood up for and for our children to know the ones who stood up March beating died our children are the future Leaders but if they keep destorying what will they be able to see?? NPUL was not in conversation about this it did not come to us they spoked to one person and she is not the President of NPUL it did not come before the Boards NPUL are Vine City Civil Asst. I understand if one on the NPUL will speak for a hold damn Community stop selling us out when we had no knowledge God Bless AllReport

    Reply

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