The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change
450 Auburn Avenue NE
Atlanta, Georgia 30312
Telephone: (404) 893-9882
Moved to current location: 1970
Number of interments: 2
Open: The tomb is outdoors and open all year.
After his assassination in Memphis by James Earl Ray in April 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s body was brought home to Atlanta. A farm wagon, drawn by mules, carried his coffin to Atlanta’s South-View Cemetery, where his parents would later be buried.
South-View Cemetery was founded in 1886 by nine former slaves who were barred from the whites-only graveyards. Because of this, South-View is the oldest African-American not-for profit corporation in the United States. It serves as the final resting place for over 70,000 African-Americans and others, regardless of race or religion.
Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, opened the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in the basement of the couple’s home in June 1968. In 1970, she had his body moved to a new tomb on a cleared lot east of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King had preached. The tomb was faced with Georgia marble, in order to “acknowledge his southern roots.”
The grave site has evolved over time. Originally, it held only the white marble crypt with an epitaph taken from his I Have a Dream speech: “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.” In 1976, a memorial park was built around the marble crypt. It consisted of a brick and concrete plaza ringed by an arch-covered walkway. In time, the raked gravel directly around the sarcophagus was replaced by a reflecting pool, with King’s crypt on a raised pedestal in the middle.
An Eternal Flame was added in 1977. It symbolizes the continuing effort to realize Dr. King’s dream of the “Beloved Community”: his vision for a world of justice, peace, and equality for all mankind.
Coretta Scott King died in January 2006 from a stroke and complications of ovarian cancer. She was initially interred in a smaller white tomb near Dr. King’s grave until a sarcophagus to match his could be constructed. She joined her husband, from whom she had been separated for almost 40 years, on February 7, 2006. Her epitaph comes from I Corinthians: “And now abide Faith, Hope, Love, these three; but the greatest of these is Love.”
Mrs. King worked tirelessly to establish Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national holiday. She spoke before Congress many times and continued her husband’s work through the Center in his name that she had founded.
A full schedule of events to celebrate Dr. King’s 83rd birthday, observed next Monday, is available here.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change Museum & Archive
The National Park Service National Historic Site
Yelp reviews of visits to King’s grave
South-View Cemetery’s website
Other Civil Rights sites on Cemetery Travel:
Cemetery of the Week #50: Gravesite of Sojourner Truth, Oak Hill Cemetery, Battle Creek, Michigan
Cemetery of the Week #65: African Burial Ground National Monument, New York City