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Neighbors push to save childhood home of Atlanta's first black mayor

City officials say the home is too damaged to save. But locals say it's a piece of history.

ATLANTA — Members of the Vine City community say they hope to save a piece of history from being demolished.

Some residents there say they are upset after finding out the childhood home of Mayor Maynard Jackson will be torn down. 11Alive went to the community to listen to their concerns - and the city's reasoning.

Sunset Avenue in the Vine City neighborhood in Atlanta has a lot of history.

"Sunset Avenue was, at one time, called and considered the richest black street in America," John H. Lewis said.

It's history that Lewis, chairman of the Vine City Civic Association, is passionate about.

While he said his focus is on the entire neighborhood, recently, he said his attention has been locked in on the home Maynard Jackson Sr. once owned. He was the father of Atlanta's first black mayor.

"I can remember very vividly that house being lived in by the Jackson family," Lewis said.

He said he remembers a young Maynard Jackson Jr. living in the home that is now, from the outside, boarded up and in need of some repair. Lewis said that he recently got word from a neighbor that the home will be demolished. He soon found the permit.

"I'm looking at our history being wiped out," Lewis said.

The permit shows that the  Martin Luther King Jr. Center owns the property. Beside the Jacksons' home is King's home - the one he lived in for much of the 1960s. The National Parks Service purchased it in January.

Lewis and others 11Alive spoke with say they don't want Jackson's home to come down. However, new District 3 City Councilman Antonio Brown said on the phone that the home is in very bad condition - too bad to save - and copper wire has been stolen from it.

He said the home doesn't even meet criteria to be historically preserved because he said Jackson Sr. only owned it from 1950 to 1951. Lewis said that isn't true.

"This is my home, and this is my story and I know the story and we had to learn the stories because the elders shared the stories with us," he said.

11Alive also spoke with the Jackson family and they said they fully support the King Center. A family member said that the King and Jackson families have been friends for years.

"The community wants to preserve its history," Lewis said.

He and others in that community said they plan to confront the city council on Monday about the demolition. They will also hold a community meeting Monday evening.

On Monday, 11Alive received a response from The King Center, saying they understand the community's concerns and that they were initially unaware of the possible historical connection. However, they said they consulted with the Jackson family after they learned more about the property. They said the family agreed that the building should be demolished.

Below is the full statement from Dr. Bernice King of The King Center: 

The King Center recently received approval from the City of Atlanta to demolish a four-unit apartment building that we own next door to the King family home in historic Vine City.  The building is being demolished because it is filled with asbestos, is structurally unsound, has a caved-in roof, unstable bearings and flooring, and rapidly decaying bricks.  The building is beyond remediation and needs to be demolished for the sake of public health and safety. 

The property is currently under conditional sale to the National Park Foundation, charitable partner of the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), who will in turn deed it to the NPS for the benefit of the public. It is our understanding that the NPS is committed to working with the community to determine the best use of the space in terms of public safety and heritage.

Last Friday, May 2nd, we were made of aware of concerns from members of the Vine City community about the planned demolition of the apartments.  We understand that the community’s concern is rooted in the fact that the family of Maynard Jackson, Sr., including his son the late Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, Jr., once resided in the apartments a few years in the 1950s.  The King Center had no knowledge of the Jackson family living at 220 Sunset Avenue and was unaware of the possible historical connection.  Also, based on the City of Atlanta’s 2011 designation of Sunset Avenue as a historic street, the apartment building was reviewed and deemed only relevant to history because it temporarily housed The King Center at its inception while our founder, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, built our current site on Auburn Avenue.  Immediately upon learning of the possible historical connection, we consulted with the Jackson family, elders original to the community, and Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown and we all agree that the building should be demolished. We also consulted with the leadership of NPU-L on the concerns and needs of the community. 

As the organization founded by Mrs. King in 1968 to ensure the historic integrity and continuation of Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, we share a common concern and commitment with the community in preserving and perpetuating the history of the civil rights movement, the history of Atlanta, and Historic Vine City.  We do not wish to see the heritage of the community degraded by the transformation of the Westside.  That said, as a practical matter, the apartment building does need to be removed for the reasons stated.  Our commitment is to work with the community and the National Park Service to ensure that the historic interpretation of the neighborhood, including the Jackson family are maintained for current and future generations. We believe that the U.S. National Park Service is the best partner to ensure the history of Vine City is accurately preserved and promoted.

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