Connecticut Magazine January 8, 2014 Douglas P. Clement
Simsbury Helped Shape Martin Luther King Jr.; Students Crusade for Memorial
You could make the argument that a significant part of the vision and greatness of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shaped in Connecticut—Simsbury to be specific.
With the nation set to pause Jan. 20 to observe the birthday of the Civil Rights leader (he was born Jan. 15, 1929), a group of approximately 14 students in Simsbury, working as the MLK in CT Memorial Committee, continues to spread the word that King spent two summers working on a tobacco farm in Simsbury with other students earning money to pay for college. And the committee also continues to raise money for a memorial honoring King’s time in Connecticut.
The memorial is to be located on the property of the Simsbury Historical Society, at the corner of Phelps Lane and Hopmeadow Street in the center of Simsbury, and anyone interested in learning more can attend a presentation about the project the students are giving at the MLK Annual Celebration Jan. 20 at First Church in Simsbury starting at 2 p.m.
In a biography full of benchmark dates, King's Simsbury experience tends to get overwhelmed, but that shouldn’t diminish its importance. When King was in Connecticut in 1944, and also in 1947, he was a teenager experiencing life in a desegregated society for the first time.
“He saw a land of promise, and not a world of segregation,” says the MLK in CT Memorial Committee, whose Simsbury High School student members made a documentary a little more than three years ago that “examined the profound influence that the experience of living in a desegregated society for the first time had on Dr. King, and revealed how visits to Simsbury opened the young King's eyes to a world to which he was not accustomed … .”
It was also his time in Connecticut, the committee says, that helped shape King’s decision to become a minister.
The documentary, made in conjunction with the Simsbury Free Library, premiered on Jan. 15, 2011 at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 25th Anniversary Gala Celebration, and received an award from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the state of Connecticut, noted committee member Joan Rogers in an email exchange this week about the committee’s ongoing fundraising efforts.
The students, working with six adult advisers, are raising $110,000 for a memorial whose benefits they quantify like this:
Calling attention to the dignity and courage of Martin Luther King, Jr, through the memorial's location in the heart of Simsbury.
Exposing both residents and visitors to the community and state to the powerful story of MLK Jr.’s time in Connecticut and Simsbury's role in this story.
Ensuring that community and state residents and students learn the story of MLK in CT.
Joining the Connecticut Freedom Trail to put Simsbury on the map of Connecticut’s historic journey furthering civil rights and human dignity.
Serving as a center or “hub” for an annual celebration of the story of MLK Jr. in Connecticut and his message of peace and hope.
Inspiring young members of the community and the state by demonstrating that the deeds of great men and women often begin as early as high school.
Reflecting community pride in Simsbury and the leadership of the town’s youth.
Increasing the visibility of Simsbury in the state, thereby benefiting residents, local businesses, and the local economy through visitors the memorial will attract.
Serving to educate and inspire all who visit the memorial in celebration of Dr. King's life, including school age children throughout the state who will visit the memorial's educational exhibits on academic field trips, and summer visitors to concerts at the Simsbury Meadows.
Fundraising has been taking place for approximately a year-and-a-half, and $58,000 has been raised so far, which includes a $20,000 donation from Cigna , $10,000 from Chubb Specialty Insurance, and $1,500 from Valassis Direct Mail, Inc.
Visit MLKinCT.com for more information, to make a donation, or to purchase a personalized tax deductible, engraved brick.