Of all the people Academy Award-winning actor Julia Roberts might be connected to, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would not be one you’d expect. But it’s true: The famed civil rights leader and the Pretty Woman star shared a unique connection.
In a bizarre turn of events, on Oct. 28, Roberts’ birthday, a fan shared a video compilation that prompted a comment stating that Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, paid the hospital bill when Julia Roberts was born.
As strange as all of that sounds, it actually happened. Roberts was born in Smyrna, Georgia, 55 years ago. Her parents ran an acting school called the Actors and Writers Workshop, and it was run by Betty Lou Bredemus and Walter Grady Roberts—the parents of Eric and Julia Roberts.
It didn’t take long for online sleuths to confirm the weird history via a video of Roberts being interviewed by Gayle King for HISTORY Talks last September, an event hosted by the History Channel and A&E Networks, The Washington Post reports.
Even better, King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, shared the video on Twitter and wrote, “Grateful that #JuliaRoberts shared this story with @GayleKing and that so many people have been awed by it.
In the interview, Roberts confirmed that the King family paid the hospital bill when she was born. She explained that, in part, this was because Roberts’ family was unable to afford the bill but also because her family’s Atlanta-based theater school opened its doors to the Kings’ children.
“One day, Coretta Scott King called my mother and asked if her kids could be part of the school because they were having a hard time finding a place that would accept her kids,” Roberts said. “My mom was like, ‘Sure, come on over.’ And so they just all became friends, and they helped us out of a jam.”
But the connection between the Roberts family and the King family has been written about before. In an essay by award-winning author and playwright Phillip DePoy, he writes about kissing Yolanda King during a performance in a parking lot when the two were teenagers. DePoy, who is white, says the kiss was spotted by a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and when the two met again for another stage kiss the following day, a Buick, sitting on a flatbed truck, exploded “ten yards away” from them.
“A man, a tangential member of the Ku Klux Klan, had seen me kiss Yolanda the day before in the same parking lot,” he wrote. “The Klansman had come around the day before the explosion in order to make trouble. The workshop was offering a free show in the Carver Homes housing project, an exclusively African-American wonderland filled with hammered lives and children with nothing to do. The guy only heckled us the first day, said words that everyone had heard a million times before, finished his case of PBR [Pabst Blue Ribbon beer] and was about to leave when I kissed Yolanda.”
“This man was not in his right mind. He came back the next day with a box, the kind his spiritual brothers had used two years earlier to kill children in a church in Birmingham… Maybe his intention was to put it under the flatbed truck, but there were too many kids and parents and dogs and drunks and cops, so the closest he could get was the Buick. I don’t know what kind of Buick it was. I know it was a Buick only because somebody later said, ‘They sure did blow up that Buick.’”
The show went on, DePoy writes, and because the Robertses allowed Yolanda into the school, she “spent the rest of her life involved in theater.”
In an interview with CNN in 2001, Yolanda King talked about her time at the Atlanta theater school.
“Mr. Roberts was so imposing,” she said. “I loved him, but I was also a little intimidated by him, too. And — but he was — I mean, he taught me so much, and he and Mrs. Roberts, about the work, and just about living and being really open, grabbing life and making the best of it.”
She said being there was like being a part of one big family, “And all of these Black kids and white kids getting along, no problems. We had no problems whatsoever, racial problems.”
Yolanda King, the eldest daughter of Coretta and Martin Luther King, died in Santa Monica, California, at the age of 51.
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