Ebenezer Baptist in online competition for improvement funds

ATLANTA — Every week, thousands of people visit Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s spiritual home on Auburn Avenue.

The historic Ebenezer Baptist Church is where the civil rights leader gave his very first sermon and his last. It’s where mourners gathered for his funeral. Where his father and grandfather preached for 81 years.

“I feel something I can’t even explain,” Patricia Exy, a visitor from Haiti, told Channel 2’s Erin Coleman.

But if you look closely at the structure, built in 1922, it’s showing its age and water is its enemy.%

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“The water is coming in from outside when it rains and it’s causing some of the water damage that you see,” U.S. Park Ranger Marty Smith told Coleman, pointing out several places from the basement to the balcony where you can see cracked plaster, peeling paint and a buckling wood floor.

The water is getting in through the roof and brick exterior, and it’s getting worse.

“This is a historic structure that has a great history to it, that needs to be preserved, that people need to see it for 100 years from now or even longer,” Smith said.

The cost to make repairs is running upward of $250,000. It’s money the National Parks Service doesn’t have, which is why the church is now vying for its share of $2 million in grant money through an online competition.

“We’re in competition with 19 other parks and sites across the country,” said Jennifer Ball, of Central Atlanta Progress. “We’ve got stiff competition from great parks across the country, but we think ours is important. We’re the only one in the Southeast. We’re a free site.”%

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Ebenezer is going up against sites such as Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore, which also are trying to get money for much-needed repairs when federal dollars are tight.

Who wins the grant is up to you, the voters. Anyone can vote online every day through July at

“The park needs us. They need us to vote,” Ball said.

Without the repairs, Smith said he knows the damage will get worse.

“If we don’t preserve it, we might not have it,” Smith said. “Once it’s gone it’s gone, and that’s the most important thing to realize.”