Simsbury Patch January 18, 2011, 5:30 A.M. Regina O’Sullivan
Inspiration in Simsbury for Martin Luther King Jr.
Simsbury students and their many local mentors uncover another source for pride in our town
By now you may have heard that Martin Luther King Jr. and the 107 or so Morehouse students worked in the Simsbury tobacco fields for Cullman Brothers back in 1944 and 1947.
But did you know that Dr. King’s experience in Simsbury preaching to his fellow students and experiencing the kindness and freedom that our town had to offer him, was transformational for him?
According to the documentary shown at Eno Memorial Hall on Monday, January 17, Martin Luther King was a man who changed the world and part of his inspiration came from his two summers up north in Simsbury.
In the documentary that was researched as a result of an assignment given to the “Simsbury High School Documentary Team” by Richard Curtiss, the social studies department chairperson at Simsbury High School, King came here to labor under the tents of the Cullman Brothers tobacco fields in order to earn money for an education.
Dr. King went to church at the First Church of Christ in Simsbury and experienced his first time in an integrated church there. He went to the movies at Eno Memorial Hall, just as everyone else did at that time. Fellow southerner William Pickens talked about how they got to chat with white girls and even get a milkshake at the local drugstore in Simsbury. Bill Duschanack talked about how he played baseball with the Morehouse students, adding that they were very good.
Later in Kings’ life, Coretta Scott King said that her husband’s feeling of freedom while he was in Connecticut was exhilarating for him. Moreover, as King began to inspire his fellow Morehouse student workers by preaching to them to help lift people up and change the world, he also decided to enter the ministry.
Perhaps it was his taste of equality in Simsbury that began to give King the sense that things could be different for African Americans and all people of color. Perhaps it was his taste of equality in Simsbury that made him want to go home to the segregated south and change things. One thing is sure, Simsbury had an effect on King that makes our town a part of our nation’s history.
Here are some of the words that were shared on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, observed and honored January 17 at Eno Memorial Hall:
“The evidence conclusively established that Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Simsbury … Simsbury influenced this man, who in turn influenced the world.” Jim Flynn of the Simsbury Free Library
“Isn’t it amazing we are walking up the same steps that Dr. King did.” U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy
“You know, there is something about Simsbury ... If Dr. King were with us in Eno today, he would be 81 years old.” Mary Glassman, First Selectman
“Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” Rev. Jonathan J. Morgan, First Church of Christ
“…to think that the love that was felt here had a role in the nation’s history.” U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy
“The state and the nation have recognized Mr. Curtiss and the town of Simsbury.” John K. Hampton, Deputy First Selectman
“I think we have the best high school students in America in Simsbury.” Rich Curtiss, Simsbury High School
“We shall overcome.” – The Simsbury Singers directed by Stuart Younse