A Conversation with an MLK Historic Site Interpreter

In light of the #VoteYourPark campaign, in which the MLK Historic Site is competing for preservation funds for Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, we chatted with MarQuis Bullock on what makes this national historic site such a special place. Remember to #VoteYourPark every day through July 5!

Tell us a few quick things about you—Where are you from? How long have you been in Atlanta? 

My name is MarQuis Bullock, and I’ve worked for the National Park Service for a little over four years. I was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas and found my park there at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. I currently work at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, and I’ve been in the city of Atlanta for about 3 months now.

How long have you worked as an interpreter at the MLK National Historic Site, and how did you come to work there?

I’ve been working as an interpreter for three months here at MALU. In college, I was hired through the “Pathways Program,” which provides career opportunities in the Federal Government for current students and recent graduates. After graduation, I decided to pursue a career with the National Park Service and, albeit through many channels, eventually came here to Atlanta to work at Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site.

What would you say is the best part of your job?

Oh man, for me that’s like trying to pick my favorite book. But one of the highlights of being a frontline interpreter is leading tours of Dr. King’s birth home. It is LITERALLY like stepping into a time machine. Everything’s been restored to a close resemblance of its condition in the 1930s. This part of our site is also a highlight for visitors. And because I give tours almost daily, I think I’ve gotten accustomed to being in the house and to all of its elements. But when I’m providing tours and the visitors and I are engaging in a sort of confluence of imagination, I sort of begin to see the resource through their eyes and am reminded of where I am and what I’m talking about at that particular moment in time. Visitors remind me of my own privilege in working for the National Park Service and this site.

What are some of the challenges of working at the MLK Site?

The National Park Service advocates making connections to the resources, as a ranger and a visitor. Rangers are sort of a conduit between the visitor and the resource. Perhaps this isn’t a challenge, but I’m aware that all visitors are singular individuals, and while many ideas and tangible materials have a universality we all understand, we too, as human beings, have a specific perspective which aids our attraction or connection to whatever is being presented. So as a ranger I strive to assess my audience and discover their objectives in visiting the site and therefore allow them to make their own connections. Sometimes I know if I’m successful and other times the impact can be kind of nontransparent.

What sets the MLK Site apart from other National Parks or National Historic Sites?

Our park bears the name of a prodigious figure in world history, but so do other parks. But one could say that Dr. King’s entire life cycle is represented here. We have the very house in which he not only grew up, but where he was also born. We have Historic Ebenezer Baptist, which was the nascence of his spiritual self, and visitors can gaze upon his burial site. This park holds the symbols of the life and death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

What do you hope people learn or “take home” when they visit the MLK Site?

I hope visitors leave with a great sense of Dr. King’s humanity. He’s been apotheosized to a great degree in our history and culture, and what we strive to do as rangers is provide visitors with the notion that before he became a major figure and voice of a great human struggle, he was someone’s child, grandchild, husband, and father. He belonged to someone else before he gave his life for us.

Why should people vote for Ebenezer Baptist Church to win these preservation funds?

As mentioned before, Historic Ebenezer was Dr. King’s spiritual home. He was baptized there and co-pastored there with his father. Visitors can listen to sermons he preached from the very pulpit of the sanctuary. Many visitors remind us that this is one of the greatest treasures of our country, and we are of the same opinion. In the National Park Service’s centennial year, I wouldn’t be too partial if I said that it’d be wonderful see Historic Ebenezer still standing 100 years from now.