By Maria Saporta
The King Center has agreed to postpone its planned demolition of the building at 220 Sunset Ave. – the building that was once the home of former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson Jr.
Bernice King, CEO of the King Center, met with Bishop John H. Lewis II, the chairman of the Vine City Civic Association and other concerned members of the community, met on Saturday afternoon to discuss the possibility of saving the red-brick building adjacent to the home where Martin Luther King Jr. and his family lived.
“Vine City is my home,” Bernice King said in a statement. “My family moved to 234 Sunset Avenue in 1965, several years after the Jackson family moved out of the apartment building next door. Last week I was surprised to learn that the late Mayor Maynard Jackson, Jr. and family lived at 220 Sunset Avenue during a period of his youth. In the spirit of nonviolence, it was personally important to learn of its history, meet with the community, and provide an opportunity for the property to be preserved,”
The statement said “there will be a brief stay on the planned demolition” so that the King Center can work with the community and “enable Vine City community stakeholders time to acquire and preserve the property, if possible.”
The permanent solution also will impact the plans of the U.S. National Park Service, which has recently acquired the King residence at 234 Sunset Ave.
“Ultimately, the outcome is not in the King Center’s hands alone,” Bernice King said in a statement. ‘But we temporarily postponed the demolition and asked the U.S. National Park Service and its charitable partner National Park Foundation to work with us in supporting the community’s effort to perform due diligence and explore the acquisition and preservation of 220 Sunset. This is a teachable moment for all of us as we continue to discover and attempt to preserve missing and overlooked history.”
At Bernice King’s request, a representative of the U.S. National Park Service also attended the meeting on Saturday.
“We value the opportunity to join the King Center and the Vine City community in working toward an equitable solution that honors Sunset Avenue’s rich history,” said Chris Abbett, associate regional director for Partnerships, Interpretation and Education for the Park Service.
The community’s effort to preserve the building has been led by John Lewis, who is a nearby neighbor.
“It was a pleasure to meet with Dr. King,” Lewis said in the statement. “She was very gracious in granting a temporary halt to the demolition of 220 Sunset Ave. and engaging the National Park Service. Dr. King wants to see us succeed and understands the importance of preserving the Jackson family home, if possible. We realize that many do not know the rich history of the home and hope our efforts can tell the story. I am thankful that we have been able to come together in the spirit of love and unity. We hope to quickly assess the building’s condition, raise funds to acquire and restore the Jackson family home on Sunset Avenue.”
Charles Lawrence, chair of Historic Atlanta, sent an email saying the organization was relieved that the Jackson family home was saved from the imminent threat of demolition.
“Historic Atlanta was honored to have had a seat at the table to discuss this important historic landmark,” Lawrence said. “We look forward to working with the King Center and the Vine City Civic Association to find a solution that preserves 220 Sunset Ave.”
Lawrence went on to say that Historic Atlanta will work with the Vine City community, the King Center, the National Trust for Historic Preservation among others to “assess the building’s condition and raise funds for its acquisition and restoration. We believe that the Jackson home will serve as an integral part of the future interpretation of Sunset Avenue.”
Historic Atlanta also outlined more specifics about the building’s history.
The four-unit red brick apartment building was built by Friendship Baptist Church pastor Rev. Dr. Maynard Holbrook Jackson, Sr. in 1949.
Jackson and his family, including young Maynard H. Jackson Jr., moved into one of the units, rented two others, and used the fourth as an office. The Jacksons continued to live at 220 Sunset until the early 1960s. It was next door to the home that later became the King family’s residence.
The building was purchased in 1971 by the King Memorial Fund, now known as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change, or the King Center.
Lewis did acknowledge there was a possibility the building might still have to be demolished.
“If we, as a community, do not reach our goal, we are appreciative to Dr. King and the King Center for the time to explore the opportunity to preserve this important part of Atlanta history,” Lewis said. “I am filled with great anticipation as we move forward to raise the funds to implement our plans to tell ‘our story’ of our many heroes and sheroes whose lives and work changed the world from Vine City.”