Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park Act of 2015
STATEMENT OF PEGGY O’DELL, DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR OPERATIONS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING H.R. 2880, A BILL TO REDESIGNATE MARTIN LUTHER KING, JUNIOR, NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE IN THE STATE OF GEORGIA, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
March 17, 2016
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 2880, a bill to redesignate Martin Luther King, Junior, National Historic Site in the State of Georgia, and for other purposes.
The Department supports H.R. 2880.
This legislation has two components: it would redesignate the National Historic Site as a National Historical Park and modestly expand the site’s boundaries to incorporate the Prince Hall Masonic Temple, where the Southern Christian Leadership Conference established its initial headquarters on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia in 1957. This historic and distinguished civil rights organization was co-founded by Dr. King, who also served as its first president.
The Martin Luther King, Junior, National Historic Site was established by Public Law 96-428 on October 10, 1980. The historic site, located in Atlanta, Georgia, encompasses 38.38 acres, 18.08 of which are Federally owned. The historic elements of the site include: Dr. King’s birth home at 501 Auburn Avenue; the original Ebenezer Baptist Church, which he co-pastored with his father from 1960-1968; the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc. (commonly referred to as the “The King Center”); the Birth Home Block which contains portions of the historically African-American Sweet Auburn residential community; and, Historic Fire Station No. 6 where white firefighters operated within a predominantly African American community. Approximately 700,000 national and international visitors come to the site each year.
H.R. 2880 would redesignate Martin Luther King, Junior, National Historic Site as the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park. National historical parks are commonly areas of greater physical extent and complexity than national historic sites. Both designations denote units of the national park system, both are considered to be national parks, and both would be subject to the same laws and eligible for the same funding streams. The change in designation would not alter the management or operation of the park in any way. However, designating a unit as a national historical park, as opposed to a national historic site, is a way to let potential visitors know that the unit probably contains a greater collection of resources, or properties, than a national historic site, which may simply be one building. It is a more accurate designation for the collection of resources at this park, and we believe that the re-designation will increase awareness of the park.
H.R. 2880 would also expand the boundary of the Martin Luther King, Junior, National Historic Site to include the Prince Hall Masonic Temple at 332-34 Auburn Avenue in Atlanta. Prince Hall was the historic national headquarters for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference where Dr. King was a co-founder and first president. Today, the SCLC is located in a new facility on the same block. Including the Prince Hall Masonic Temple within the unit’s boundary will permit the National Park Service to provide technical assistance to the building’s owners with respect to repairs, renovations, and maintenance that would preserve its historic integrity.
H.R. 2880 also updates the official park boundary map to recognize a land exchange between the National Park Service and the City of Atlanta that was authorized by Public Law 108-314 in 2005. That exchange permitted the National Park Service to exchange a vacant lot with no historic significance for city-owned property that has enabled the National Park Service to establish easy street access to the park’s visitor center and museum. H.R. 2880 replaces the previous park boundary map with a new map that incorporates both the land exchange authorized by Public Law 108-314 and the boundary expansion proposed in H.R. 2880.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions that you or other members of the subcommittee may have.