Woman Arrested After Trying to Set Fire to Birth Home of Martin Luther King Jr.

Woman Arrested After Trying to Set Fire to Birth Home of Martin Luther King Jr.
Civil rights leader Martin Luther King (1929–1968) addresses crowds during the "March on Washington" at the Lincoln Memorial, where he gave his "I have a dream" speech, in Washington on Aug. 28, 1963. (Central Press/Getty Images)
Katabella Roberts

A woman has been arrested by police in Atlanta, Georgia, after allegedly attempting to set fire to the birth home of former minister and civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., according to officials.

Law enforcement officers arrived at the home at around 5:45 p.m. on Dec. 7 following a report of vandalism in progress, according to a statement from Atlanta Police.

Upon arriving at the scene, police arrested a 26-year-old woman, who has not been identified and who they said had been stopped and detained by multiple bystanders.

“Preliminary investigation indicates that the suspect had poured gasoline onto the property of 501 Auburn Ave. NE,” Atlanta Police said.

The suspect is being held on suspicion of criminal attempted arson and second-degree interference with government property.

Law enforcement officers are still proving the incident. No further details were provided.

The two-story home in which Martin Luther King Jr. was born was originally built in 1895 and purchased in 1909 by Rev. Adam Daniel Williams—pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church and Mr. King’s grandfather—for $3,500.

Rev. Williams moved into the property with his wife Jennie Celeste and their 6-year-old daughter Alberta Christine, who later went on to marry Michael Luther King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s father.

The younger Mr. King became known worldwide for his support of non-violent activism, often helping to organize boycotts and sit-ins, although he is perhaps best known for the 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech he delivered during a March in Washington, D.C.

Home Closed Off to Public

Less than a year after that march, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, and religion.

Mr. King was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968.

The home, which is situated not far from the MLK Jr. National Historical Park and the King Center, was acquired by the National Historical Park from the King family in Atlanta in 2018 and up until November, had been open to members of the public, who were able to visit it through public tours run by the National Park Service.

However, the property was closed off to the public last month to allow for an “extensive rehabilitation project.”

It is not expected to reopen to visitors until November 2025.

Video footage filmed by bystanders during Thursday’s attempted vandalism shows two individuals appearing to restrain a woman, and at one point holding her down on the ground.

Bystanders Saved ‘Important Part of American History’

Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum praised the actions of bystanders on Thursday, telling reporters that two tourists from Utah had seen the woman pouring gasoline on the home and interrupted her.
Two off-duty New York police officers who had been visiting the home chased the woman down and detained her until officers from the Atlanta Police Department arrived, he said, according to The New York Times.

“That action saved an important part of American history tonight,” he told reporters.

Elsewhere, Jerry DeBerry, the Atlanta Fire Department’s battalion chief, said that officials were working to clean up the property but no damage had been reported.

“If the witnesses hadn’t been here and interrupted what she was doing, it could have been a matter of seconds before the house was engulfed in flames,” he said. “It was really about the timing and the witnesses being in the right place at the right time.”

In a statement Tuesday night, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center For Nonviolent Social Change called the attempted fire an “unfortunate incident.”

“Fortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful, thanks to the brave intervention of good Samaritans and the quick response of law enforcement,” the statement read. “We thank the Atlanta Police Department, Atlanta Fire Department, the National Parks Service, and Mayor Andre Dickens for leading the efforts to ensure the safety of our cherished national landmark and its adjacent neighbors.”

“Our prayers are with the individual who allegedly committed this criminal act,” the statement concluded.