The success Martin Luther King, Jr accomplished in the Civil Rights movement is notorious. However, the events leading up to his reign as speaker of the people, for example, his short yet meaningful time in Connecticut, has evaded many history books.
100 degrees harvesting and drying tobacco. Despite ‘the tobacco juice and tar stained hands’, the summer in Simsbury was often described by the students as “the promised land.”
With a salary of $4 per day of labor, the students received an imbursement business owners in the South weren’t required to pay to anyone of color. They could venture into town and spend their earnings on the weekends. They had the opportunities to attend the cinema in the Eno Memorial Hall or stop in Doyle’s Drug Store, where many indulged in their first milk shake. The students spent time in Hartford shopping, attending live musical shows and eating at restaurants of their choice. King personally documented eating at the local soda shop and being invited to sing at two of the town’s churches.
Dr. King wrote to his mother on June 18 1944, “Yesterday we didn’s work so we went to Hardford we really had a nice time there. I never thought that a person of my race could eat anywhere but we ate in one of the finest resturant in Hardford. And we went to the largest shows there. It is really a large city.”
In their free time, the students cooked, played basketball, held prayer meetings —King was elected the leader of the group’s religious activities — and, more importantly as the civil rights leader, debated the injustices that they faced back home. In a black owned newsletter, editors wrote that their mission was “to encourage student discussion of vital problems which confront us as students and as citizens of the South.”
Although most students agree, they never ventured past the Methodist Church [commercial block where Vincent’s sporting goods is today]; weekends were essentially spent indulging in the freedoms they were deprived of in the South. These experiences, such as being served at white owned businesses, molded King’s views on human birth right.
King had spent two summers working in those fields and discovering the desegregation of the North. His writings strongly suggest this time in Connecticut was instrumental in his call to the clergy, which, in turn, led him to join the civil rights movement.
Dr. King writes in his autobiography, “After that summer in Connecticut, it was a bitter feeling going back to segregation.” Furthering, “The first time I was seated behind a curtain in a dining car, I felt as if the curtain had been dropped on my selfhood. I could never adjust to the separate waiting rooms, separate eating places, separate rest rooms, partly because the separate was always unequal, and partly because the very idea of separation did something to my sense of dignity and self-respect.”
1. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Simsbury. https://www.MLKinCT.com/. 2009.
2. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Simsbury. https://SimsburyFreeLibrary.org/. 2011.
3. Martin Luther King: His Time in Simsbury, Connecticut. SimsburyHistory.org/.