Local knowledge: MLK’s Simsbury summers planted seeds for career

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Historic barns at Meadowood, in Simsbury, Connecticut (Photo credit: Kesha Lambert / The Land for Public Trust)

The East Coast Greenway’s Farmington Canal Heritage Trail runs past the Cullman Brothers tobacco barns in Simsbury where Martin Luther King Jr. worked in the summer of 1944 as a teenager. King, like many other African American youth from the South, came to work in Connecticut’s fields to earn money for school and his family.

Connecticut Humanities’ website notes that “King’s letters home to his mother and father reveal a 15-year-old’s astonishment at the prospects open to African Americans in the comparatively less restrictive North. He wrote of worshiping alongside whites in a Simsbury church and of dining in Hartford. ‘I never though[t] that a person of my race could eat anywhere,’ he wrote, ‘but we…ate in one of the finest restaurant[s]….’ The state was not free of racism, of course, but the lack of overt segregation, such as King experienced in the South, made a lasting impression.”

UPDATE: In October 2021, "The Trust for Public Land and the Town of Simsbury announced the protection of the historic and culturally significant property, known locally as Meadowood. The 288-acre property, once a thriving tobacco farm, looks about the same as it did more than 75 years ago. This landscape – and the experiences here - offers important connections to Civil Rights history in Connecticut." 

The text above is an excerpt from “Guide to the East Coast Greenway: New Haven, Connecticut, to Providence, Rhode Island, by Bike or on Foot” was written by Lisa Watts, former communications manager for the Alliance who rode the entire Greenway in 2018. This guide was published with support from the 1772 Foundation. Highlighting the culture, history and natural beauty between New Haven, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island, the publication is a comprehensive guide to exploring an iconic 170-mile stretch of the East Coast Greenway in Southern New England. Learn more. 

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