ATLANTA -- The tomb and birthplace of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the most popular tourist attraction in Atlanta, may be visible only from a distance if a long-running feud between the National Park Service and the King family is not resolved.
After a 14-year partnership designed to share Dr, King's legacy through guided tours, his family has ordered the Park Service off the property, and has no plan of its own, so far, to give guided tours.
"You are to remove all Park Services personnel and property by the close of business Dec. 28, 1994," wrote Sonny Walker, executive director of the Martin Luther King Center for Non-Violent Social Change, in a letter to the Park Service dated Friday.
People who want to see one of the shrines to the civil rights movement still will be able to walk with park rangers past the King birthplace and tomb on Auburn Avenue, but they will not be allowed into the house or tomb area.
The King family did not respond to requests for an interview, but a spokeswoman for the King Center said she hoped that last-minute negotiations could settle the dispute.
The ultimatum is the latest development in a dispute over the Park Service's plan to build an $11.8 million visitors center in honor of Dr. King across the street from the King Center. The visitors center, on land owned by the Park Service, is expected to be completed by the start of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
The King family has opposed the visitors center because it wants to build a multimedia museum to Dr. King on the same site.
But the spokeswoman for the King Center, who spoke on condition that her name not be used, said the King family is most upset that the Park Service has not included it in plans for the visitors center. The family feels that it is being squeezed out of planning for the five-block-long Martin Luther King National Historic Site, she said.
The family wanted to be included in those plans, she said, but was not invited to recent meetings to plan the visitors center. Rep. John Lewis, an Atlanta Democrat, said he plans to conduct a Jan. 7 meeting in Atlanta to try to resolve the dispute.