WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. John Lewis is renewing an effort to upgrade federal protections for the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in downtown Atlanta, a bipartisan endeavor that could face resistance from the White House given the Democrat’s recent scuffles with President Donald Trump.
The civil rights hero and 16-term lawmaker has pushed for years to designate the site as a national historic park, a reclassification his office says would draw more federal resources such as park rangers, educational programming and community grants.
Lewis’ bill would also add the Prince Hall Masonic Building, which served as the headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, to the sprawling campus that currently houses King’s birth home, the Ebenezer Baptist Church and a visitor center. King was the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which trained many of the civil rights movement’s leaders and spearheaded voter registration drives and education initiatives.
“It’s important for people to know about what happened during the latter part of the 20th century and the impact that Atlanta and Martin Luther King Jr. had on not just Atlanta, but America and the world,” Lewis said about the bill in an interview last spring.
The House is expected to debate the bill and easily pass it Wednesday. From there, it will go to the Senate, where similar legislation languished last year as the election sucked up much of the political oxygen on Capitol Hill.
The legislation is not considered controversial since its costs are negligible and the bill itself is a commemorative one, but its fortune may ultimately depend on how well Lewis is getting along with Trump, since the bill does need the president’s signature.
The two haven’t exactly been buddies lately.
Lewis drew Trump’s wrath on Twitter back in January when he said he didn’t see the then-president elect as “legitimate.” Trump responded that Lewis “should spend more time on fixing and helping his district” rather than criticizing him.
Finding time in the Senate will also be an issue as the chamber continues to churn through Cabinet nominations and soon the GOP’s legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
If signed by the president, the measure would create Georgia’s first national park. It’s one of several bills winding its way through Congress that would give new federal designations to historic sites in Georgia.
One passed by the House in January would expand the boundaries of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.