The West Hunter Street Baptist Church in Atlanta, where the Rev. Ralph
Abernathy Sr. and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. met, prayed and organized the
civil rights movement, could be on its way to formal national recognition after
a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 15.
The vote approves a Department of Interior study to determine whether
it can be named a National Park Service site. “I am very pleased,” said the
Rev. Ralph David Abernathy III, who runs a foundation that intends to raise about
$6 million to turn the site of the now vacant stone building into a park and
historic center. “This was the spiritual workplace of the civil rights
Abernathy, whose father and King were close friends and co-founders of
the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, hopes for Senate passage of the
West Hunter Street Baptist Church Study Act before the end of the year.
“The history of the Civil Rights Movement is a lesson in democratic
ideals,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., who proposed the legislation with Rep.
Austin Scott, R-Ga. “We deeply believe that it is our duty to preserve these
landmarks and to share their significance with future generations.”
Abernathy, one of four living children of the civil rights
leader, testified before members of Congress in July about the bipartisan
bill, which is co-sponsored by 77 House members.
The historic church was the site of training sessions for Freedom
Summer and other voter education projects. It has been vacant ever since the
elder Abernathy led the church to a new megachurch location. Ralph Abernathy
Sr. died in 1990.
The foundation has proposed that the park at the site would include a
21-foot bronze statue of six pioneers of the civil rights movement: Rosa Parks;
King; Coretta Scott King; Abernathy Sr.; his wife, Juanita Abernathy; and John