Tuesday, August 13, 2013

New Jersey Links to MLK's "I Have a Dream" Speech

                                    Clarence Jones standing behind Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Local New Jersey Links to MLK's “I Have a Dream” Speech

By William Kelly (billkelly3@gmail.com 609-425-6297)

Maple Shade, Cape May and Longport, New Jersey don't have the same connotations to the American Civil Rights movement as Memphis, Selma and Birmingham, but events took place there that had a major impact on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the moving speech he gave at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington fifty years ago.

The first incident occurred in sleep Maple Shade, a primarily residential Camden County community intersected by a number of major highways.

On June 10, 1950, a quiet Sunday afternoon, Martin Luther King, Jr., a student at Crozier Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, was driving around with his fellow student Walter R. McCall, and their dates, Pearl Smith and Doris Wilson after attending religious services. They pulled into Mary's Cafe on Main Street, just off the jug handle on Rt. 73, parked, went inside and sat down at a table.

There were a few local customers sitting at the bar, including a black man, but after reviewing the menu for quite some time, no one waited on them. After awhile, King got up and approached the bartender, Ernest Nichols - a big, German, who insulted King. After King and his companions complained about not being served, Nichols took out a gun from behind the bar, opened the door and shot the gun into the air.

King and his friends got the message and left, but before they left town they filed a formal complaint with the local police, and Nichols was later arrested and there was an official court hearing in which Nichols was fined $50 on a weapons charge.

Although not a well known incident in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is listed in the chronology of his life, and it is cited as the one event that radicalized him to make civil rights a political issue.

After King became recognized as a leader in the civil rights movement, in June 1958 he was asked to address a convention of Philadelphia area Quakers meeting in Cape May, New Jersey, where King gave a not well known but important speech in which he articulated the idea that the civil rights movement was not just for blacks but for all people, and that to be successful, violence would be counter-productive and non-violent civil disobedience must be practiced.

At Cape May King said the civil rights movement was part of a “worldwide revolt against slavery and the oppression of colonialism and imperialism.”

The third significant incident that contributed to the inspiration of the “I Have A Dream” speech too place in the early 1950s in Longport, New Jersey, an upscale beach resort on the south end of Absecon Island, which includes Atlantic City. Among the rich residents was the Lippincott family, original Quakers who owned the Chalfonte-Haddon Hall (Now Resorts) on the boardwalk in Atlantic City and other Philadelphia and South Jersey area businesses.

The Lippincotts employed some domestic servants, whose young son Clarence Jones, had looked forward to spending a summer at the Jersey Shore, and as soon as he got there he began exploring the neighborhood on his bicycle.

When he encountered some other local youths however, they harrassed him, and he was shocked at what they called him “nigger,” “honkey,” “monkey” and “boogaloo,” things he had never heard before.

Having been educated in a private school by Catholic nuns and raised in the home of the upper crust Lippincott family, young Jones had never heard such language and was understandably repulsed.

Jones later recounted that, when his mother found him crying, and he told her what happened, she made him look in the mirror asked what he saw – telling him “you are the most beautiful thining Go;s creation,” and from then on such taunting no longer affected him as much as it did that day in Longport.

The nuns, Jones said, taught him well, and after graduating from Columbia and obtaining his law degree and license, Jones moved to California, where he intended to become a prominent and prosperous attorney for the rich and famous.

Then one day in 1960 a visitor arrived at his front door – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was scheduled to give a sermon at Jones' church that evening. King asked Jones to go back east with him and work on the civil rights movement, as a young lawyer was needed. Jones declined, saying his wife was pregnant and he had to take care of his new family. King understood, but later that night King devoted part of his sermon on the responsibility of black professionals to stand up and take the lead in the movement that was then primarily young black radicals, liberal white college kids and old black ladies like Rosa Parks.

Also berated by his wife, Jones reconsidered and joined King's legal team, eventually becoming one of his most trusted aides. Jones helped compose parts of the “I Had a Dream” speech, ensured it was copyrighted and tells the story in his book, “Behind the Dream – the Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation.

Jones can also be heard interviewed on NPR radio program - .

So MLK at Mary's Cafe in Maple Shade, his Cape May speech and Clarence Jones' bike ride in Longport, New Jersey may not rank with such major civil rights events as those that happened in Selma, Birmingham and Memphis, but what transpired in New Jersey at those times and places changed the minds of men and effectively brought about major changes in the civil rights of all people.

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