It wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. and "Pretty Woman" actress Julia Roberts never crossed paths. After all, Roberts rose to fame in the '90s, while MLK Jr. was assassinated just one year after the actress was born on October 28, 1967. Roberts is viewed as a modern Hollywood star, while MLK Jr. is regarded as a historical figure.
It's true that Roberts has no conscious memories of the preacher and activist. But, as she explained in an interview with Gayle King at a HISTORYTalks event in Washington, D.C. (via Oprah Daily), her parents, Walter and Betty Lou, were close family friends with the Kings.
The Roberts and Kings' friendship was built on a mutual desire to break down racial barriers, making history in their hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, and ultimately helping the future film legend from the day that she was born.
Julia Roberts revealed to Gayle King that when her family was unable to pay the hospital bill when she was born, Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, stepped in to cover the fees. While the act was undoubtedly gracious, it was also a way for the Kings to return a kindness the Roberts family had extended to them.
As Roberts explained in her interview, her parents, Walter and Betty Lou, were the heads of the Actors and Writers Workshop in Atlanta. "One day, Coretta Scott King called my mother and asked if her kids could be part of the school cause they were having a hard time finding a place that would accept her kids, and my mom was like, sure, come on over,'" she said.
Roberts recalls the moment lightly, but at the time, it was anything but. Society was still very much segregated in 1960s Atlanta, and the desegregation of the Actors and Writers Workshop was not received well in the area. Nevertheless, the Roberts family refused to treat the Kings any differently, even casting their eldest daughter, Yolanda, as the love interest of Phillip DePoy, a white workshop attendee.
In an essay published on Arts ATL, Phillip DePoy recounted his experience working with Yolanda King and the terrorist acts that ensued because of it. DePoy wrote that after word got out about his and Yolanda's onstage on-stage romance, including a brief kiss, a drunken member of the Ku Klux Klan blew up a car ten yards away from the actors during an outdoor performance. Everyone walked away unscathed, at least physically.
DePoy recalled Julia Roberts' father, Walter, coming to the side of the stage and addressing the crowd, though he couldn't hear what the message was. Seemingly unfazed by the racist act, he turned to DePoy and King and prompted the young actors to continue their scene. "The show was over by the time the fire truck arrived," DePoy wrote.
This was during the summer of 1965, a couple of years before the Roberts family would find themselves unable to pay their medical fees for their daughter Julia's birth at Crawford Long Hospital. While Julia Roberts tries to live like a normal person these days, her family's connection to the Kings marked a historic start to the life of this iconic actress.