By MOLLY SAMUEL, WABE
The Martin Luther King, Jr., Natatorium, a pool and rec center in the Old Fourth Ward, isn’t just named after Dr. King; it’s also connected to his family.
Hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the new facility in Atlanta on Monday morning. The Freedom Singers opened the event. The Morehouse Glee Club sang during the ribbon cutting.
King’s daughter, Dr. Bernice King spoke to the crowd at the event. She said her father was an avid swimmer, but her mother, Coretta Scott King, never learned how.
“My mother labored, back when my father was assassinated, she labored over ensuring that this community, this greater Auburn community, would have a facility where young people could come and especially enjoy swimming,” King said to the crowd.
The result of that work was the old natatorium built near the King Center in the late-70s. In 2012, it closed due to structural problems.
“When the previous natatorium was torn down, it kind of ripped my heart,” said King.
Sabir Muhammad, who grew up swimming at the MLK Natatorium and went on to represent the U.S. in international competitions, told WABE he felt the same way about the old facility, but he can’t wait to get in the new pool.
“I probably clocked more miles in the M.L. King pool than anybody in history,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing who the young one will be who will clock the most miles in this pool.”
The new natatorium, a $23.5 million project funded by the Renew Atlanta infrastructure bond, is a few blocks from the old location. It’s a bright, open building with not just a pool, but also an indoor basketball court, a computer lab and a senior center.
“I’ve waited for this. I’ve watched it build from nothing to this,” said Beverly Brandon, who lives in a senior community across the street from the new natatorium. “I’m like, oh yes, that’s for us, the people of Atlanta.”
Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed told the crowd that this project was a priority for him.
“We said in the city of Atlanta, that if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s name’s on it, it was going to be a place that you could take people to with pride, with dignity, with respect. And that is what this building is about today, ladies and gentlemen,” Reed said.
At the main entrance to the building, there’s a portrait of Dr. King, a few stories tall. Standing near it at the opening celebration, Dr. Bernice King gave her approval.
“It’s very hard to get my father right, other than an actual photo. That,” she said of the portrait, “that is my daddy.”
This story was provided by WABE.