Friday, April 22, 2011

Ebenezer Baptist Church Rising Again

ATLANTA — Each of the 90 federal historic sites in the United States has its appeal. But for all their cultural value, the sites don’t change much. A studious tour given by a park ranger. A plaque to read. Another note in a travel journal.

The doors to the church opened Friday after $8 million of detailed work to make it look exactly as it did during the 1960s.

But this week, one of the sites held the sort of electric charge usually not found among dusty period chairs and explanatory dioramas.

Inside the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church — the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was both baptized and eulogized — a new, meticulous renovation underscored the weight of one of the most significant social movements in modern America.

The power, according to some of the record 20,000 people who visited the church this week, is in the personal nature of such recent history contained in the small Gothic Revival building on the corner of Auburn Avenue and Jackson Street.

“We lived the segregated South,” said Lily Townsend, 77, who walked through Thursday with her husband, Ronald, a member of the Pensacola, Fla., City Council.

“There’s an emotion when you come here,” she said. “A tear comes to your eye for all that started here.”

The doors to the church opened Friday after four years and $8 million of detailed work to make it look exactly as it did during the 1960s, when Dr. King and his father stood on the pulpit and preached.

Restoration teams analyzed paint chips to recreate the exact soft peach color of the walls and uncovered the tall, painted-glass windows.

They studied old photographs of the fellowship hall in the basement, setting period green and white tile so the floor looked like it did when Dr. King held meetings of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights group he formed in 1957.


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