The first time Martin Luther King Jr. experienced life outside the segregated South, it was in Connecticut. As a teenager, he spent the summers of 1944 and 1947 in Simsbury, and his letters home expressed wonder in the freedom to eat in any restaurant and sit wherever he pleased on public transportation.

Photo by Steve Burns/Image courtesy Trust for Public Land

King was part of a Morehouse College-organized program that brought him to Simsbury to pick tobacco for the Cullman Brothers. Students lived in dormitories and labored in the fields from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., earning $4 a day.

King was nominated by his peers to lead them in worship and he sang in the choir at First Church in Simsbury—his first time at an integrated church. On his application to Crozer Theological Seminary, he wrote that his decision to pursue the ministry “came about in the summer of 1944.”

In his autobiography, King reflected: “After that summer in Connecticut it was a bitter feeling going back to segregation.”

Simsbury High School students produced a short documentary titled Summers of Freedom: the Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Connecticut, which is the source for this story.  A memorial commemorating his formative summers in Connecticut, initiated by these students, will be unveiled today at the Simsbury Free Library at an event that will be steamed from 2 to 4 pm.

Image courtesy of Simsbury Free Library.

This is an excerpt from one of the 84 stories in my forthcoming book Secret Connecticut, which will be published by Reedy Press in March.

The Trust for Public Land is working to preserve the site where King and others lived and worked.


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