Tag Archives: Martin Luther King

“King In The Wilderness” Comes Home

It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King was gunned down in Memphis. He was just 39 years old.

King was part of a generation of courageous, determined and energetic civil rights leaders. Some are gone. Others are alive — and still fighting for social justice.

But they’re in their 70s, 80s and 90s. They won’t be here forever. It’s fallen to a new generation to pass along their stories — and keep their hopes and dreams alive.

Trey Ellis is one of those storytellers. The Westporter is a leading voice of the African American experience.

Trey Ellis

He’s written movies, books, TV shows and a play about the Tuskegee Airmen. He’s been a political pundit, social critic and Huffington Post contributor; won a Peabody and been nominated for an Emmy.

He teaches at Columbia University, was a non-resident fellow at Harvard, and taught or lectured at Yale, NYU, and in Brazil and France.

But his most recent project was extra-special. He served as executive producer for “King in the Wilderness.” The 2-hour documentary showed a side of the civil rights icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner that’s seldom discussed today: a conflicted leader who at the time of his death was assailed by critics on both the left and right.

Ellis spent a year crisscrossing the country, interviewing 17 men and women who lived, breathed and molded the civil rights movement.

John Lewis, Jesse Jackson, Marian Wright Edelman, Joan Baez — all spoke with candor and insight about Martin Luther King. Ellis also interviewed unsung heroes of the movement, like Diane Nash.

This Wednesday (June 13, 7 p.m., Bowtie Cinema, 542 Westport Avenue, Norwalk), the Westport Library and TEAM Westport host a free screening of the film. It premiered in January at Sundance, then was shown at the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History and New York’s Riverside Church, before airing on HBO in April.

Making the film was “the experience of a lifetime,” Ellis says. He held intimate conversations with men and women who shaped our nation’s history. He worked with rare archival footage, some of it never before seen by the public.

He helped bring nuance — and human frailty — to a man who has become shrouded in myth.

In the final years of his life, which the documentary focuses on, King was “more radical, and more disregarded” than most of us remember, or realize, says Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times and NPR.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow notes, “I consider myself kind of a King fanatic, King-ophile … And I was just shocked by  how much I leaned, how much new footage I had never seen.”

Wednesday’s Bowtie screening will be followed by a Q-and-A with Ellis.

The executive producer is proud of his film. And — because he’s a professor too — he’s eager to put his work in a larger context.

“With the state of the nation so fractured,” Ellis says, “‘King in the Wilderness’ seems ripped from today’s headlines.”

(The June 13 screening of “King in the Wilderness” is free. However, pre-registration is required. Click here for a free ticket; click here for more information.)

MLK

This story has become a Martin Luther King Day tradition on “06880.”

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work.  Some will sleep in; others will ski, or take part in a Staples basketball clinic for younger players. Few will give any thought to Martin Luther King.

Twice, though, his life intersected this town in important ways.

Martin Luther KingThe first was Friday night, May 22, 1964. According to Woody Klein’s book Westport, Connecticut, King had been invited to speak at Temple Israel by synagogue member Jerry Kaiser.

King arrived in the afternoon. Kaiser and his wife Roslyn sat on their porch that afternoon, and talked with King and 2 of his aides. She was impressed with his “sincerity, warmth, intelligence and genuine concern for those about him — our children, for instance. He seemed very young to bear such a burden of leadership.”

King’s sermon — to a packed audience — was titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He analogized his America to the time of Rip Van Winkle — who also “slept through a revolution. The greatest liability of history is that people fail to see a revolution taking place in our world today.  We must support the social movement of the Negro.”

Westport artist Roe Halper presented King with 3 woodcarvings, representing the civil rights struggle. He hung them proudly in the front hallway of his Atlanta home.

Artist Roe Harper (left) presents Coretta Scott King with civil rights-themed wood carvings.

Within a month Temple Israel’s rabbi, Byron Rubenstein, traveled south to take place in a nonviolent march. He was arrested — along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

In jail, the rabbi said, “I came to know the greatness of Dr. King. I never heard a word of hate or bitterness from that man, only worship of faith, joy and determination.”

King touched Westport again less than 4 years later. On April 5, 1968 — the day after the civil rights leader’s assassination in Memphis — 600 Staples students gathered for a lunchtime vigil in the courtyard. Nearby, the flag flew at half-staff.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

Vice principal Fermino Spencer addressed the crowd. Movingly, he spoke about  his own experience as an African American. Hearing the words “my people” made a deep impression on the almost all-white audience. For many, it was the 1st time they had heard a black perspective on white America.

No one knew what lay ahead for their country. But student Jim Sadler spoke for many when he said: “I’m really frightened. Something is going to happen.”

Something did — and it was good. A few hundred students soon met in the cafeteria. Urged by a minister and several anti-poverty workers to help bridge the chasm between Westport and nearby cities, Staples teachers and students vowed to create a camp.

Within 2 months, it was a reality. That summer 120 elementary and junior high youngsters from Westport, Weston, Norwalk and Bridgeport participated in the Intercommunity Camp. Led by over 100 Staples students and many teachers, they enjoyed swimming, gymnastics, dance, sports, field trips, overnight camping, creative writing, filmmaking, photography, art and reading.

It wasn’t easy — some in Westport opposed bringing underprivileged children to their town — but for over a decade the Intercommunity Camp flourished.

Eventually, enthusiasm for and interest in the camp waned. Fewer Staples students and staff members wanted to devote their summer to such a project.  The number of Westporters willing to donate their pools dwindled. Today the Intercommunity Camp is a long-forgotten memory.

Sort of like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Even on his birthday.

MLK speech

Connect-Us Links Youth With MLK’s Dream

It’s quite a bit early to think about Martin Luther King Day.

Unless you’re Connect-Us.

That’s the Bridgeport-based, Westport-supported organization offering after-school opportunities for youngsters in need.

Connect-Us programs have 3 prongs.

Youth Leadership Team members learn public speaking, community organizing, and related skills. Over 100 young people auditioned for the team’s first talent show, which drew an audience of more than 450 in October.

Connect-Us Youth Leadership Team members promote a recent talent show.

C-U Onstage is a place where young people meet, create, produce performances, and learn to work as an ensemble. For some, it’s the first chance to earn community praise.

Connect-Us Academy is a 14-week series of workshops at companies throughout Fairfield County. Professional mentors — including Westporters Charlie Adams, Arlene Doherty and Deb Sawch — help teenagers learn about finance, law, advertising, retail, health and education administration. Graduates of the program are placed in paid summer internships.

“There’s a state of emergency in Bridgeport,” says Connect-Us executive director Pam Lewis. “The average 9th grader reads at a 4th grade level.”

She is gratified that so many people here “understand that kids need support, in school and after school. This really is Westport and Bridgeport — caring adults and young people — coming together and harnessing our human capital to impact and support entire communities. ”

Board chair Frances Rowland, plus Doherty and Joyce Eldh — live in Westport. Business partners from Westport include Matthew Burris (CFO of Marc Fisher Footwear), Rich Eldh (managing director, Sirius Decisions) and Chris Sawch (partner, Shearwater Creek).

The Connect-Us board of directors.

So about Martin Luther King Day: Connect-Us is sponsoring a special (and free) Klein Auditorium performance. Over 150 children and teenagers — multiracial and economically diverse, from throughout Fairfield County — will sing, dance, and recite poetry and monologues and raps. They’ll also read from letters they write to Dr. King, sharing their own dreams — or (sadly) why they’ve stopped dreaming.

The Klein is an inspiring — and inspired — choice. Dr. King spoke to full houses there twice, in 1961 and ’64.

Four days after his murder, in 1968, an overflow crowd jammed the hall for a memorial service.

Lewis is excited about the upcoming event. 2018 is the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Westport youth — and anyone else — interested in performing should email plewis@connectusct.org.

This is one way to honor Dr. King. It’s also a great way to “connect” with talented youths from nearby neighborhoods, around a common dream.

FUN FACT: Connect-Us is a great name. Not only does it imply connecting “us” and the “US” — but the logo highlights “CT,” as in “connect Connecticut.”

MLK

This story has become a Martin Luther King Day tradition on “06880.”

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work.  Some will sleep in; others will ski, or take part in a Staples basketball clinic for younger players. Few will give any thought to Martin Luther King.

Twice, though, his life intersected this town in important ways.

Martin Luther KingThe first was Friday night, May 22, 1964. According to Woody Klein’s book Westport, Connecticut, King had been invited to speak at Temple Israel by synagogue member Jerry Kaiser.

King arrived in the afternoon. Kaiser and his wife Roslyn sat on their porch that afternoon, and talked with King and 2 of his aides. She was impressed with his “sincerity, warmth, intelligence and genuine concern for those about him — our children, for instance. He seemed very young to bear such a burden of leadership.”

King’s sermon — to a packed audience — was titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He analogized his America to the time of Rip Van Winkle — who also “slept through a revolution. The greatest liability of history is that people fail to see a revolution taking place in our world today.  We must support the social movement of the Negro.”

Westport artist Roe Halper presented King with 3 woodcarvings, representing the civil rights struggle. He hung them proudly in the front hallway of his Atlanta home.

Artist Roe Harper (left) presents Coretta Scott King with civil rights-themed wood carvings.

Within a month Temple Israel’s rabbi, Byron Rubenstein, traveled south to take place in a nonviolent march. He was arrested — along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

In jail, the rabbi said, “I came to know the greatness of Dr. King. I never heard a word of hate or bitterness from that man, only worship of faith, joy and determination.”

King touched Westport again less than 4 years later. On April 5, 1968 — the day after the civil rights leader’s assassination in Memphis — 600 Staples students gathered for a lunchtime vigil in the courtyard. Nearby, the flag flew at half-staff.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

Vice principal Fermino Spencer addressed the crowd. Movingly, he spoke about  his own experience as an African American. Hearing the words “my people” made a deep impression on the almost all-white audience. For many, it was the 1st time they had heard a black perspective on white America.

No one knew what lay ahead for their country. But student Jim Sadler spoke for many when he said: “I’m really frightened. Something is going to happen.”

Something did — and it was good. A few hundred students soon met in the cafeteria. Urged by a minister and several anti-poverty workers to help bridge the chasm between Westport and nearby cities, Staples teachers and students vowed to create a camp.

Within 2 months, it was a reality. That summer 120 elementary and junior high youngsters from Westport, Weston, Norwalk and Bridgeport participated in the Intercommunity Camp. Led by over 100 Staples students and many teachers, they enjoyed swimming, gymnastics, dance, sports, field trips, overnight camping, creative writing, filmmaking, photography, art and reading.

It wasn’t easy — some in Westport opposed bringing underprivileged children to their town — but for over a decade the Intercommunity Camp flourished.

Eventually, enthusiasm for and interest in the camp waned. Fewer Staples students and staff members wanted to devote their summer to such a project.  The number of Westporters willing to donate their pools dwindled. Today the Intercommunity Camp is a long-forgotten memory.

Sort of like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Even on his birthday.

MLK speech

What Would Martin Do?

Looking for a way to honor Martin Luther King?

Excited — or frightened — about the presidential inauguration?

Westport’s 11th annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration fills both bills.

This Sunday (January 15, 3 p.m., Westport Country Playhouse), check out an intriguing talk. It’s called “WWMD: What Would Martin Do in the Era of Post-Race Racism?”

Professor Tricia Rose

Professor Tricia Rose

The keynote speaker is Dr. Tricia Rose. She’s a Brown University professor of Africana studies, director of its Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, and a well-respected scholar of post-civil rights and black US culture.

Rose — who has been featured on PBS, CNN, NPR and many other media outlets — will talk about race in the current political environment, from the perspective of King’s philosophy. A Q-and-A session follows.

There’s also music from the Men’s Community Gospel Chorus of Norwalk; a spoken word piece based on King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” presented by students from Trumbull’s Regional Center for the Arts, and refreshments.

The event — co-sponsored by the Playhouse, Westport/Weston Interfaith Council and TEAM Westport — is free. The Westport Weston Family YMCA will provide childcare and activities.

For more information on “WWMD: What Would Martin Do?” click here. For highlights of last year’s Martin Luther King Day celebration, click the video below.

 

Food For Thought: Who Sits Where In The School Cafeteria

Martin Luther King said that 11 a.m. Sunday was the most segregated hour of the American week. He was referring to the segregation of white and black churches, of course.

But 11 a.m. weekdays may be the most segregated hour in American schools. That’s lunchtime — and day after day, week after week, the same friends sit at the same tables.

In Westport, the separation is not racial or religious. But it is segregation by friend groups.

In nearly every cafeteria, the same groups sit together every day.

In nearly every cafeteria, the same groups sit together every day.

That self-segregation is the basis for this year’s TEAM Westport “Diversity Essay Contest.”

Open to all high school students attending any Westport high school, and Westporters who attend high school elsewhere — and carrying prizes of $1,000, $750 and $500 — the contest asks entrants to describe barriers that prevent students from reaching out to others different from themselves. They should then “identify specific steps you and other students in your high school” can take to help students break down those barriers — “especially in the cafeteria.” Entrants are also asked to discuss the “risks and benefits” of making that effort.

TEAM-Westport-logo2The contest follows last year’s very successful inaugural event. Students were asked to reflect on demographic changes in the US — describing the benefits and challenges of the changes for Westport generally, and him or her personally.

Applications for the contest are available here. The deadline is February 27. “06880” will highlight the winners.

(TEAM Westport is the town’s official committee on multiculturalism. The Westport Library co-sponsors the contest.)

MLK

This story ran last year. Several readers asked me to republish it today. Here it is.

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work.  Some will sleep in; others will ski, or take part in a Staples basketball clinic for younger players. Few will give any thought to Martin Luther King.

Twice, though, his life intersected this town in important ways.

Martin Luther KingThe first was Friday night, May 22, 1964. According to Woody Klein’s book Westport, Connecticut, King had been invited to speak at Temple Israel by synagogue member Jerry Kaiser.

King arrived in the afternoon. Kaiser and his wife Roslyn sat on their porch that afternoon, and talked with King and 2 of his aides. She was impressed with his “sincerity, warmth, intelligence and genuine concern for those about him — our children, for instance. He seemed very young to bear such a burden of leadership.”

King’s sermon — to a packed audience — was titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He analogized his America to the time of Rip Van Winkle — who also “slept through a revolution. The greatest liability of history is that people fail to see a revolution taking place in our world today.  We must support the social movement of the Negro.”

Westport artist Roe Halper presented King with 3 woodcarvings, representing the civil rights struggle. He hung them proudly in the front hallway of his Atlanta home.

Artist Roe Harper (left) presents Coretta Scott King with civil rights-themed wood carvings.

Artist Roe Harper (left) presents Coretta Scott King with civil rights-themed wood carvings.

Within a month Temple Israel’s rabbi, Byron Rubenstein, traveled south to take place in a nonviolent march. He was arrested — along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

In jail, the rabbi said, “I came to know the greatness of Dr. King. I never heard a word of hate or bitterness from that man, only worship of faith, joy and determination.”

King touched Westport again less than 4 years later. On April 5, 1968 — the day after the civil rights leader’s assassination in Memphis — 600 Staples students gathered for a lunchtime vigil in the courtyard. Nearby, the flag flew at half-staff.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

Vice principal Fermino Spencer addressed the crowd. Movingly, he spoke about  his own experience as an African American. Hearing the words “my people” made a deep impression on the almost all-white audience. For many, it was the 1st time they had heard a black perspective on white America.

No one knew what lay ahead for their country. But student Jim Sadler spoke for many when he said: “I’m really frightened. Something is going to happen.”

Something did — and it was good. A few hundred students soon met in the cafeteria. Urged by a minister and several anti-poverty workers to help bridge the chasm between Westport and nearby cities, Staples teachers and students vowed to create a camp.

Within 2 months, it was a reality. That summer 120 elementary and junior high youngsters from Westport, Weston, Norwalk and Bridgeport participated in the Intercommunity Camp. Led by over 100 Staples students and many teachers, they enjoyed swimming, gymnastics, dance, sports, field trips, overnight camping, creative writing, filmmaking, photography, art and reading.

It wasn’t easy — some in Westport opposed bringing underprivileged children to their town — but for over a decade the Intercommunity Camp flourished.

Eventually, enthusiasm for and interest in the camp waned. Fewer Staples students and staff members wanted to devote their summer to such a project.  The number of Westporters willing to donate their pools dwindled. Today the Intercommunity Camp is a long-forgotten memory.

Sort of like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Even on his birthday.

MLK speech

A Joyful Noise

It’s been nearly 2 years since the Saugatuck Congregational Church was devastated by fire.

Reconstruction continues, as Craig D.B. Patton’s photo from this foggy morning shows:

Saugatuck  Church steeple 8-29

But yesterday afternoon at 3, the historic church’s bells joined with countless others around the nation. They rang together, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and Rev. Martin Luther King’s ringing “I Have a Dream” speech.

The congregation has not yet returned to Saugatuck Church. But their dedication to praying for — and working for — social justice for all continues, undaunted.

A March, A Dream, A Half-Century

This Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of the famous March on Washington — and Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Longtime Westporter Adam Stolpen remembers it well. He was there.

He writes:

As I recall, Temple Israel sent a bus or 2 of people to The March. So did several other groups. People from town were very involved in the civil right movement.

I was a teenager, and happened to be in DC with my folks for unrelated reasons. The day before the march, I wandered down from the Wardman Park Hotel to the Mall to see if there was anything I could do to help. There weren’t many white folk around working, certainly no one else 16. Everyone was friendly, and seemed genuinely pleased to have me help.

March on  Washington buttonIt was hot and sweaty in the still humid air, in the tents set up along the Mall. An older man who seemed to be in charge handed me a staple gun. He pointed to piles and piles of printed signs, alongside mounds of rough cut flimsy wooden stakes. He asked if I knew how to make picket signs for people to carry in the march. Seemed like a good idea, so I started working some time in the late morning.

I worked far into the night, making hundreds and hundreds of signs for the marchers to carry the next day — until a small, soft-spoken man surrounded by several other men entered the tent. He walked around shaking people’s hands, and speaking to them.

He came over to me.  It must have been about 10  p.m., pitch dark, the tent illuminated by bare bulbs, and I guess I seemed tired and out of place. He asked me where I was from and what I was doing — and if my folks knew where I was.

I told him they did not know where I was, that my dad would not approve of what I was doing since he did not like black people, and if he knew I was involved with the march he’d most likely lock me in my room. He smiled sadly at me. and said it was time for me to go home and let my parents know I was okay. He said that sometimes you needed to listen even to those who disagreed with you, so long as you followed your own heart.

He said that I should do as the Bible said, and honor my father and mother — but be my own man. He said if I could not come back the next day it would be okay, as long as I kept the purpose of the march in my heart when I went home. He shook my hand, and made me propose to go home.

Rev. Martin Luther King, the day after inspiring Adam Stolpen.

Rev. Martin Luther King, the day after inspiring Adam Stolpen.

I did not make it back to the march the next day. As expected, my father forbid me to go, but I felt I was part of it just the same. The night before was the only time I ever met Dr. King, but I was touched by his grace and the sense of calm he projected. I was proud to have been a very small part in helping our country grow and mature.

There must be many more interesting stories Westporters can share of involvement in a movement that was not just for black Americans — but was a civil rights march that opened the way for today’s Latinos, immigrants and gays, and helped pave the road for real American equality.

Adam’s right. If you have a Westport story about that historic day 50 years ago — or if you were not a Westporter then, but are now — hit “Comments.” We want your insights (and please, use your real, full name!)

The scene in Washington, 50 years ago this Wednesday.

The scene in Washington, 50 years ago this Wednesday.

MLK

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work.  Some will sleep in; others will ski, or take part in a Staples basketball clinic for younger players. Few will give any thought to Martin Luther King.

Twice, though, his life intersected this town in important ways.

Martin Luther KingThe first was Friday night, May 22, 1964. According to Woody Klein’s book Westport, Connecticut, King had been invited to speak at Temple Israel by synagogue member Jerry Kaiser.

King arrived in the afternoon. Kaiser and his wife Roslyn sat on their porch that afternoon, and talked with King and 2 of his aides. She was impressed with his “sincerity, warmth, intelligence and genuine concern for those about him — our children, for instance. He seemed very young to bear such a burden of leadership.”

King’s sermon — to a packed audience — was titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He analogized his America to the time of Rip Van Winkle — who also “slept through a revolution. The greatest liability of history is that people fail to see a revolution taking place in our world today.  We must support the social movement of the Negro.”

Westport artist Roe Halper presented King with 3 woodcarvings, representing the civil rights struggle. He hung them proudly in the front hallway of his Atlanta home.

Artist Roe Harper (left) presents Coretta Scott King with civil rights-themed wood carvings.

Artist Roe Halper (left) presents Coretta Scott King with civil rights-themed wood carvings.

Within a month Temple Israel’s rabbi, Byron Rubenstein, traveled south to take place in a nonviolent march. He was arrested — along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

In jail, the rabbi said, “I came to know the greatness of Dr. King. I never heard a word of hate or bitterness from that man, only worship of faith, joy and determination.”

King touched Westport again less than 4 years later. On April 5, 1968 — the day after the civil rights leader’s assassination in Memphis — 600 Staples students gathered for a lunchtime vigil in the courtyard. Nearby, the flag flew at half-staff.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

Vice principal Fermino Spencer addressed the crowd. Movingly, he spoke about  his own experience as an African American. Hearing the words “my people” made a deep impression on the almost all-white audience. For many, it was the 1st time they had heard a black perspective on white America.

No one knew what lay ahead for their country. But student Jim Sadler spoke for many when he said: “I’m really frightened. Something is going to happen.”

Something did — and it was good. A few hundred students soon met in the cafeteria. Urged by a minister and several anti-poverty workers to help bridge the chasm between Westport and nearby cities, Staples teachers and students vowed to create a camp.

Within 2 months, it was a reality. That summer 120 elementary and junior high youngsters from Westport, Weston, Norwalk and Bridgeport participated in the Intercommunity Camp. Led by over 100 Staples students and many teachers, they enjoyed swimming, gymnastics, dance, sports, field trips, overnight camping, creative writing, filmmaking, photography, art and reading.

It wasn’t easy — some in Westport opposed bringing underprivileged children to their town — but for over a decade the Intercommunity Camp flourished.

Eventually, enthusiasm for and interest in the camp waned. Fewer Staples students and staff members wanted to devote their summer to such a project.  The number of Westporters willing to donate their pools dwindled. Today the Intercommunity Camp is a long-forgotten memory.

Sort of like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Even on his birthday.

MLK speech