The auditorium had to be rebuilt after a 1998 fire gutted old McKinley High School, but that doesn't change the fact that Martin Luther King Jr. once stood in this spot. That was in November 1953, when the civil rights leader made the trip to Baton Rouge to deliver a sermon at Mount Zion Baptist Church while also learning how the Rev. T.J. Jemison successfully coordinated the city's bus boycott. While in the capital city, King also met with officials at Southern University, then spoke to South Baton Rouge residents in the McKinley auditorium. Two years later, he would launch the Civil Rights Movement by staging a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.
"It looked different back then," says Melvin Mitchell, general manager of the McKinley High School Alumni Center, which makes its home in the old school at 1520 Thomas Delpit Drive. "There was a balcony in the back and a stage in the front. And there were auditorium seats in the middle.The building now is owned by the McKinley High School Alumni Association, which helped in its addition to the National Register of Historic Places, and then restored it after the fire. The auditorium is there, but its balcony, stage and seats were not replaced. However, the room resembles the original space where King spoke and raised funds for the beginning of his Civil Rights Movement efforts."
"There were about 6,000 people here that night, and he raised between $6,000 and $7,000," Mitchell says, thumbing through a copy of McKinley High's first yearbook. The school opened in 1926; the yearbook was published in 1928. Mitchell stops on a page showing the school's auditorium, appearing exactly as he described it.The building had been reorganized as McKinley Elementary School by the time he was a student there in the late 1950s, meaning he wasn't roaming the halls when King made his appearance there.
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