By Jay Reeves, Associated Press
Bullet holes pock a rusted mailbox outside the vacant home where Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott were married in 1953. Part of the old wooden structure has collapsed, as have nearby utility buildings.
Most anyplace connected to the best-known voice of the civil rights movement is a magnet for tourists, particularly around the January holiday honoring King’s birthday and in February during Black History Month. His birthplace in Atlanta is a national historic park; the parsonage where he and his wife lived in Montgomery is part of the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.
Yet the spot where the Kings spent one of the most important days of their lives — the childhood home of Coretta Scott King, who went on to found the King Center in Atlanta following her husband’s assassination in 1968 — sits all but unknown on the side of a two-lane highway in rural Perry County, one of Alabama’s poorest places. Even some locals remain largely unaware of its historical importance.
“I don’t really know anything about the house,” said Kay Beckett, president of the Perry County Historical and Preservation Society.
An expert said the Scott home is one of many important Black historical sites that have been forgotten across the nation.
“It’s actually more typical than you’d imagine. We pass by many Black heritage sites every day, standing in plain sight seemingly without history or meaning. Yet, these overlooked places hold exceptional cultural and educational value,” said Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The action fund recently received a $20 million donation to preserve Black churches, and it has raised more than $70 million to assist with more than 200 preservation projects nationally since being started following the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Yet the Scott and King families’ wedding venue is all but off the radar.
There’s no single reason why the place is a forgotten relic, officials say. One problem is that it’s far off the beaten path for travelers, nowhere near a major highway and about 75 miles (121 kilometers) from Birmingham to the northeast or Montgomery to the east.
Also, it’s privately owned and not open to the public. Tax records show the property is owned by Bernice King, the couple’s youngest daughter, and not much has ever been done with it. Bernice King didn’t respond to email messages about the home that were sent to aides at The King Center, where she works as chief executive.
“It is standing and they have a caretaker who cuts the grass,” said Albert Turner Jr., a county commissioner whose father Albert Turner led civil rights activities in the region and advised King.
Cars and tour buses occasionally stop by, longtime neighbor William Carter said, but there’s no sign or historic marker to tell the property’s story. He still misses Coretta King’s parents, Obie and Bernice M. Scott, who died in 1998 and 1996, respectively.
“Him and his wife were the nicest people I ever met in my life,” said Carter.
Coretta Scott, a Marion native, and King, who grew up in Atlanta, met in Boston in the early 1950s while he was attending Boston University and she was studying opera at the New England Conservatory of Music.
“She talked about things other than music. I never will forget, the first discussion we had was about the question of racial and economic injustice and the question of peace,” King wrote in his autobiography.
The two wed in the front yard of the wood-frame home on June 18, 1953, with King’s father performing the ceremony; a wedding photo showed him in a white jacket, her in a gown. Their marriage license is still at the county courthouse in Marion, logged in a book marked “COLORED” in keeping with the Jim Crow law at the time that required segregating everything by race, even marriage records.
Scott’s parents remained at the white house with a broad front porch while the young couple lived in Boston and then Montgomery before settling in Atlanta. Obie Scott preached at the nearby Mt. Tabor A.M.E. Zion Church and operated a country store right beside the home; a cash register, scales and cigar boxes are among the items still visible through a broken front window.
It’s not that the Kings are forgotten in Perry County. The home is located on Coretta Scott King Memorial Highway, and a bust of Coretta King erected following her death in 2006 stands outside the Mt. Tabor church.
But some believe more should be done. Perry County Probate Judge Eldora B. Anderson, who lives in suburban Birmingham, said she took her grandchildren to see the house and church.
“They had so many questions,” she said.
Leggs, the preservationist, said in an email interview that the Scott home “is a cultural asset important to our nation’s 20th century history.”
“This home stands as the physical evidence and existence of a great American and a great family legacy,” he said.
Reeves is a member of AP’s Race and Ethnicity team.