Confederate flags placed at Ebenezer church near MLK Center

Confederate flags sit in the back of a police car as an Atlanta police officer and U.S. Park Ranger stand by outside Ebenezer Baptist Church Thursday, July 30, 2015, in Atlanta. U.S. authorities are investigating after several Confederate battle flags were discovered near the church and a civil rights center named after Martin Luther King, an iconic leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement, Thursday morning. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

ATLANTA (AP) — Four Confederate battle flags were found on the grounds of the Ebenezer Baptist Church near the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta on Thursday, and police and federal authorities were investigating.

Officer Gary Wade said a maintenance worker discovered the flags at 6 a.m. Thursday and notified the National Park Service, which operates The King Center.

Groundskeepers were disturbed to see the flags in the morning, the Rev. Shannon Jones of Ebenezer Baptist said.

“Our grounds men were so upset, they took pictures and then they moved them,” Jones said. But Park Service police later told workers the flags should be treated as evidence and not handled, he said.

No one saw who placed the flags, which weren’t stuck in the ground but instead set neatly on top of it, Wade said. There is at least one security camera for the area, Wade said, and authorities were reviewing footage.

A security guard saw a suspicious vehicle across the street from the church Wednesday night, but it wasn’t clear whether that was related, Wade said.

A conference on the role on black churches in social justice issues has been going on in Ebenezer’s facilities, Jones said.

King once preached at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which is near the new church where the congregation now meets and where the flags were placed.

The King Center complex is near the eastern edge of downtown Atlanta. It is centered on Auburn Avenue, once a bustling center of commerce for Atlanta’s African-American businesses and residents.

The center and church are a short walk from the home of Martin Luther King Jr.’s maternal grandparents, where the late civil rights leader lived for the first 12 years of his life

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Associated Press writer Jeff Martin contributed.

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