Niklas Halle’n/AFP via Getty Images
The world finally learns a thrilling fact about the birth of Julia Roberts, exactly 55 years later: she was paid for by Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.
The connection between the two families wasn’t necessarily a secret, but it resurfaced in a big way just before Roberts’ birthday on Oct. 28, thanks to a recent interview and a viral tweet.
At the end of last month, an account called @retweeted turnandstomp a fan video of young Roberts, adding: “Martin Luther King Jr paying for his birth is still a little known fact that sends me” – and clarified later which Scott King had also contributed. Over 100,000 people liked the tweet and hundreds responded with obvious shock and joy.
And on the actress’ birthday, Zara Rahim – a widely-followed consultant on social media – reposted the tweet alongside a Video clip of Roberts discussing the story with journalist Gayle King.
Today is Julia Roberts’ birthday! 55 years ago, MLK and Coretta Scott King paid her parents’ hospital bill after she was born. I can’t stop thinking about it since I read it. Here she talks about it with @GayleKing https://t.co/5HvpNSUYb pic.twitter.com/147x6d807W
— Zara Rahim (@ZaraRahim) October 28, 2022
The conversation came from the A+E Networks and History Channel’s HISTORYTalks live event in Washington, DC, in September. In it, King notes that Roberts had two major historical figures in his life and asked who paid the hospital bill when he was born.
“OK,” smiled Roberts, before turning to the audience and pointing to King. “His research is very good.”
After a brief exchange (“The King family…” says Roberts, to which King replies “Not my family”) Roberts confirms that MLK and Coretta covered the costs. How did it happen?
“Obviously because my parents couldn’t afford the hospital,” replied Roberts, who was born in Smyrna, Georgia, in 1967. She went on to explain that at the time her parents ran a school theater in Atlanta called The Actors. and Writers’ Workshop.
“And one day Coretta Scott King called my mom and asked if her kids could be in the school, because they were having trouble finding a place that would accept her kids, and my mom said, ‘ Sure come,’ Roberts said. “And they all became friends and they helped us out of a mess.”
The story came as a heartwarming surprise to many in the crowd (King asks) and to the dozens of fans who shared their reactions on Twitter.
Bernice King, a lawyer and minister who is the late couple’s youngest daughter, tweeted that she was grateful – both to Roberts for sharing the story and to the fact that so many people were in awe of it.
“I know the story well,” she added, “but it’s moving for me to remember the generosity and influence of my parents.”
Roberts’ parents ran an integrated acting school in Georgia
King noted in the interview how unusual it would have been for black children to take acting classes alongside white children in the 1960s South, and how “amazing” it was for parents de Roberts welcome them with open arms.
Walter and Betty Roberts ran the only integrated children’s theater troupe in Atlanta, according to CNN.
Yolanda King, the eldest child of the Kings – who grew up to be an activist and actress – recalled her experience at school in an interview with the network in 2001, several years before her death.
“Mr. Roberts was so imposing. I loved him, but I was also a little intimidated by him too,” she said. “He taught me and him and Mrs. Roberts so much about work, and about living and being really open, about embracing life and making the most of it.” ‘
She remembers meeting Julia at these workshops in the late 1960s and described the atmosphere as that of an extended family.
“All these black and white kids get along, no problem,” King said. “We had no problems, racial problems.”
There were, however, a few exceptions. Author Phillip DePoy, reflecting on his teenage experience at school in a 2013 essay for Arts ATL, wrote that a car exploded after a “tangential Ku Klux Klan member” saw him kissing Yolanda King while he was rehearsing for a play.
“I was predominantly Caucasian and Yolanda was not,” he wrote. “That’s what it was about. I don’t know who owned the Buick, but I know who blew it up.”
The acting studio eventually closed for financial reasons, and the Roberts divorced before Walter’s death in 1977.
The Roberts inspired many young people in the Atlanta area to get into acting, writes DePoy, noting that their own son Eric eventually studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.
Of course, he wasn’t their only famous student – a fact DePoy alluded to:
“I understand that even her younger sister got involved in acting.”
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