The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic District is located in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, once a prominent and prosperous locale. One of the oldest neighborhoods in the city of Atlanta, the area was settled in the early 19th century. The community’s population was mainly African American and was economically diverse. Residents from all walks of life were drawn to the community. Everyone from physicians to Pullman porters, maids to ministers and contractors to cooks called this jewel in the Old Fourth Ward their home. The community’s architecture was diverse as well, featuring large homes built by successful professionals standing alongside more modest, working class bungalows and traditional shotgun houses.
Manufacturing companies such as Scripto and the John Harland Company provided accessible, well-paying employment. A strong network of religious institutions such as Ebenezer Baptist Church, Big Bethel AME Church and Wheat Street Baptist Church, as well as educational and social institutions provided a vibrant cultural setting. The confidence and dynamism of the area was symbolized in the nickname given to its nationally known business district, “Sweet Auburn.”
Beginning in the 1960s, Sweet Auburn and the Old Fourth Ward experienced a sudden and prolonged decline. Desegregation opened up new housing opportunities on the west side of Atlanta, which many middle class African Americans found appealing. They left in large numbers, converting stately homes to rental properties. The subsequent loss of middle class dollars stripped much of the luster from Sweet Auburn as a business district, and when an expressway bisected the neighborhood during an urban renewal program in the mid 1960s, its fate was sealed. Over the next 25 years, absentee ownership, disinvestment, rising unemployment and escalating crime all contributed to the area’s continued downturn.
Yet, through all of these challenges, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic District’s storied history and legacy was never forgotten.
The HDDC was born of that legacy. Co-founded by Coretta Scott King, Christine King Farris and John Cox in 1980, the all volunteer, community based organization sought to preserve and revitalize the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic District to its former glory. That work continues today.