Dr. Martin Luther King is known around the world for his “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963 and for his fight for civil rights.
But one of the footnotes of history is the story of the lessons that King first learned about racial integration in the Hartford suburb of Simsbury.
That is correct. Simsbury, Connecticut. As mentioned previously in this space, King’s time in north central Connecticut is a little-known fact that had a major impact on his life.
When King was only 14, in 1944, he traveled to the upscale Hartford suburb to work in the tobacco fields as a summer job. Some of Simsbury’s tobacco barns still stand today. King had never been to the North at that stage in his life, and he was amazed to learn that he could eat in any restaurant – something he had never seen in the segregated South. King was also stunned by what he saw in church, prompting him to mention it when he wrote a letter to his mother in June 1944.
“We went to church Sunday in Simsbury, and we were the only Negroes there,” King wrote. “Negroes and whites go to the same church.”
That same summer, King traveled from Simsbury to the capital city of Hartford with his friends and was stunned again by what he saw.
“Yesterday, we didn’t work, so went to Hartford,” King wrote. “We really had a nice time there. I never thought that a person my race could eat anywhere, but we ate in one of the finest restaurants in Hartford.”
King returned to Simsbury in the summer of 1947 as he was working to earn money for his college education. While in the North, he decided to become a minister, and he telephoned his mother from Simsbury to give her the news.
King later wrote, “After that summer in Connecticut, it was a bitter feeling going back to segregation. It was hard to understand why I could ride wherever I pleased on the train from New York to Washington and then had to change to a Jim Crow car at the nation’s capital in order to continue the trip to Atlanta. The first time that 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.”