Preserving the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

For close to 13 years, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. leveraged words and his philosophy of nonviolent direct action to work towards equality and justice for Black people in the United States and beyond. His leadership—and the work of the broader movement—laid the foundation for modern day fights for civil rights.

Over the years the National Trust for Historic Preservation has drawn attention, supported, and granted funding towards the preservation of historic sites connected with King's life and legacy. Explore five of these historic places—places that continue to educate, challenge, and inspire us today.

  1. Clayborn Temple, Memphis, Tennessee

    Photo By: Steve Jones

    Clayborn Temple

    During the Sanitation Workers’ Strike of 1968, civil rights supporters and labor activists organized together inside Memphis’ Clayborn Temple. The movement came to a head when King joined efforts with the strikers and their supporters. King first appeared in Memphis for a speech at Mason Temple on March 18, 1968, and he continued organizing around the Sanitation Workers’ Strike when he realized how dire the workers’ situation had become, until his death on April 4 at the Lorraine Motel. In 2022, the National Trust received an African American Civil Rights Grant from the National Park Service to develop an exhibition and guide book about the strike, with additional support for staffing provided by the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

  2. The restored sign for the A.G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham, Alabama.

    Photo By: City of Birmingham

    A.G. Gaston Motel

    Part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, The A.G. Gaston Motel was at the epicenter of city’s civil rights protests and demonstrations. During the spring of 1963, King stayed in Room 30—a “war room” for the movement’s top leaders. This is where he made the decision to defy a court’s injunction and submit himself to being jailed to show solidarity with local protesters (A.G. Gaston paid the $160,000 bond to release Dr. King from jail). In January 2017, two years after the site was included on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, and due to a coalition's tireless advocacy, President Barack Obama established Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument through a presidential proclamation. On June 30, 2022, a ribbon cutting marked the substantial completion of the restoration of the Gaston Motel and it is now open for visitation.

  3. Edmund Pettus Bridge

    Photo By: Mike Norton/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Edmund Winston Pettus Bridge

    On Sunday, March 7, 1965, hundreds of civil rights marchers heading east out of Selma, Alabama, toward Montgomery were violently confronted by state and local law enforcement at the Edmund Winston Pettus Bridge, built in 1940. The day became known as Bloody Sunday. Two days later, King led a symbolic march to the bridge. And on Sunday, March 21, some 3,200 marchers continued the journey across the bridge arriving in Montgomery four days later as a crowd of 25,000. In 2021, the Selma to Montgomery Camp sites were listed on the National Trust's list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

  4. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site PIP HERO

    Photo By: William H. Ransom

    Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church

    The Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church was the site of many meetings and rallies—including the 1957 gathering that led to the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The church sits at the center of the country’s Civil Rights movement and also served as King’s lifelong spiritual home. It sits within the The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park is centered around King's boyhood home and includes many other structures important to his story. In 2022, Ebenezer Baptist Church received a grant from the National Fund for Sacred Places to complete community-serving upgrades.

  5. Photo By: Robert Benson Photograph

    Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library

    Designed by pioneering Modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the 400,000-square-foot Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library is his only building in Washington, D.C. and his only realized library in the world. Following the groundbreaking of the library in 1968 the DC Public Library Board of Trustees issued a citywide call for naming ideas. Following a letter writing campaign, the library became the city's first memorial honoring King when dedicated in 1972. In 2021, the Library was awarded a Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Award after six-year, $211 million restoration project.

Announcing the 2024 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

See the List