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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Few individuals in American history have made an impact as sizable as Martin Luther King, Jr. King wore many hats throughout his tragically short life, from minister to activist to scholar, leaving behind a legacy that is worthy of celebration. Though King was assassinated before he even reached his fortieth birthday, his life was filled with many notable events. Many of those events positively affected, and continue to affect, the lives of millions of others. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University notes that the following are some of the major events of King’s life.

• January 15, 1929: Now commemorated annually as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (in 2023, the holiday is observed on Monday, January 16), January 15 marks the day King was born in 1929. King was born in Atlanta, where his father was a pastor at the Ebenezer church.

• September 20, 1944: Despite being only 15 years old, King begins his freshman year at Morehouse College. King was only a high school junior in 1944, but he was admitted to Morehouse, where his father studied for his ministerial degree, after passing the school’s entrance exam.

• August 6, 1946: King’s letter to the editor of The Atlanta Constitution is published. The letter reflects King’s belief that Black Americans are entitled to the same rights and opportunities as White Americans. King’s father later admitted this letter was the first time he and his wife recognized their son’s “developing greatness.”

• February 25, 1948: Following in his father’s footsteps, King is ordained and appointed assistant pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in his hometown of Atlanta.

• June 8, 1948: King earns his bachelor of arts degree in sociology from Morehouse College.

• May 6-8, 1951: King graduates from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. He delivers the valedictory address during the graduation ceremony.

• June 18, 1953: King marries Coretta Scott near the bride’s family home in Marion, Alabama. Coretta Scott King would also become a vocal activist, advocating for peace and gay rights and expressing her opposition to apartheid in the 1980s. She would not remarry after her husband’s assassination.

• June 5, 1955: King ears his doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University.

• December 5, 1955: King becomes president of the Montgomery Improvement Association after the organization is formed at the Holt Street Baptist Church. MIA is formed in response to the arrest of Rosa Parks five days earlier after she refused to vacate her seat for a white passenger.

• January 27, 1956: A threatening phone call late in the evening inspires King to carry on with his activism.

• January 30, 1956: King’s home is bombed while he is elsewhere delivering a speech. His wife and daughter are not injured in the blast.

• January 10-11, 1957: King is named chairman of what becomes the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which was an organization of southern black ministers working together to combat segregation.

• June 23, 1958: King and other leaders meet with U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Washington, D.C.

• September 17, 1958: Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story is published. It is King’s first book.

• September 20, 1958: King survives a stabbing during a book signing in Harlem, New York. During a surgery after the stabbing, doctors remove a seven-inch letter opener from King’s chest.

• April 16, 1963: King writes his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in response to criticisms of the Birmingham Campaign, a collective effort on the part of the SCLC and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) to combat segregation in the Alabama city. The letter becomes one of King’s most famous writings.

• August 28, 1963: King delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

• January 3, 1964: King is named “Man of the Year” by Time magazine.

December 10, 1964: King receives the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.

• March 17-25, 1965: King helps to lead civil rights marchers from Selma to Montgomery.

• June 7, 1966: King and other leaders resume James Meredith’s “March Against Fear” from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi. Meredith was unable to continue after he was shot and wounded.

• April 3, 1968: King delivers his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” as he returns to Memphis to lead a peaceful march of striking sanitation workers.

• April 4, 1968: King is shot and killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. He is buried in Atlanta five days later.

The North Country Peace Group hosted a birthday commemoration for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Saturday, Jan. 15, at the corner of Route 25A and Bennetts Road in Setauket. Community members came together to remember King with songs, music and speeches. Photos by Myrna Gordon

From left, volunteers Alexandra, Ilene, Emily and Brian Horan; Sela Megibow; Cantor Marcey Wagner; Paula Balaban; and Adam Morotto. Photo from Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook established a new tradition this year, gathering a multi-generational group of congregants to cook up soup and vegetarian chili for people in need of support.

Cantor Marcey Wagner envisioned the community service event to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and enlisted Social Action Committee Chairperson Iris Schiff to help with the details.

From left, Julia Megibow, Hannah Kitt (seated), Lana Megibow, Abby Fenton, Hazel and Dasi Cash Photo from Donna Newman

The morning of Jan. 15 began with a reading of the story “As Good as Anybody” — written by Richard Michelson and illustrated by Raul Colon — about the friendship that formed between civil rights leader King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. The two men faced similar challenges growing up and shared a belief in the value of every human being. Heschel joined the civil rights movement and marched at King’s side in Selma in 1965.

Congregants brought fresh and canned vegetables to the synagogue and all the ingredients needed to make comfort foods. Everyone participated in the effort. After the chopping and mincing and blending, while the Instant Pots cooked, the children created greeting cards and small challahs to be delivered with the containers of food. The challah prep was under the tutelage of consummate baker Linda Jonas and the greeting cards were facilitated by artist Deborah Fisher.

The freezer is now stocked with portions of soup and chili to be delivered to the homebound, mourners and people who are ailing. They will also be available to families visiting the temple’s food pantry.

Temple Isaiah is located at 1404 Stony Brook Road, Stony Brook. For more information, please call 631-751-8518.

Barbara and Herman Lee with Barbara’s mother Ethel Lewis. Photos from Geral Lee.

By Geral Lee

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is unquestionably synonymous with Black History Month. He courageously confronted social inequities and racism in the midst of an adverse anti-black administration largely due to J. Edgar Hoover who had been appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation, renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935. Few could compete with Hoover’s power and he went virtually unchallenged for half a century.

Hoover opposed making Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. His smear campaign attempted to label Dr. King as a communist and a homosexual. He ordered illegal wire taps of Dr. King’s hotel room to try to justify his stance and used the power of government to satisfy his own bigotry toward blacks. Dr. King persevered.

Herman Lee in his Navy days (circa 1941). Photo from Geral Lee

There were many other individuals way before Dr. King who challenged the system in the name of justice. I am certain their actions helped define his political strategies. These people — and God bless them — were not just slaves, demonstrators or rioters.    

I must include Glenn Beck in this article. I am not suggesting he is an authority on black history. As the colorful conservative that he is, his question as to why the many contributions of black people continue to remain hidden from the mainstream is a legitimate one — and yet another reason to celebrate Black History Month.

In one of his tapings, “Glenn Beck Founders’ Fridays Black American Founders” (Fox News), that I listened to on YouTube, he mentioned Peter Salem, a hero in the Battle of Bunker Hill who saved scores of American lives. During the Battle of Lexington, white and black parishioners who worshiped together were commanded to fight. James Armistead served as a double spy. And is that Prince Whipple, the black crewman, in the painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware? I am not so sure because many blacks fought in the American Revolution. Freedom was not an automatic option.       

There have been unsung black heroes making all kinds of contributions throughout American history. The members of the 333rd Battalion, for example. The Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company of Baltimore, Maryland, which was one of the largest and most successful black businesses in America in the 1870s.   

“Dirty Little Secrets About Black History: Its Heroes & Other Troublemakers” by Claud Anderson reveals that in the late 1800s, blacks invented and filed for patents on a number of transportation-related devices. Andrew J. Beared invented an automatic train car coupler. Albert B. Blackburn invented a railway signal. R.A. Butler invented a train alarm. Although many inventors were fresh out of slavery and the literacy rate among slaves was 50 percent, black inventors filed hundreds of patents for transportation devices. The Safe Bus Company was a black-owned city-chartered bus line in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, from 1930 to the 1960s.   

Black history celebrates regular people engaged in positive activities. Here are some examples:

My father Herman Lee resided at 34 Christian Ave., Setauket, between 1956 and 2011. He was employed at the Setauket yard of the Brookhaven Highway Department in the 1960s and promoted to foreman in the 1970s. He did carpentry/home improvement projects for Three Village homeowners; among his regular clients, the Windrows and the Strongs. In World War II he served on the USS Hornet CV-12. After he became a chaplain for the VFW along with his wife Barbara Lewis Lee who was a practical nurse and historian in her own right. They sent all of their four children to college: Barbara, Herman, Geral and Peter.

Barbara, Herman, Geral and Peter Lee. Photo from Geral Lee

Uncle Sherwood Lewis was an employee of Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO). He came up with an idea that saved the company more than $100,000 a year according to a Newsday article dated April 23, 1977. He, too, was raised on Christian Avenue and now resides in Massachusetts.

Grandmother Ethel Lewis, valedictorian of her high school graduating class, resided at 32 Christian Ave. with her husband Howard Lewis. They subdivided their property so my parents could build their house on Christian Avenue.

Aunt Hazel Lewis, salutatorian of her graduating class, was employed at Peck & Peck in New York City back in the day — a high-end boutique clothing store for women.   

Aunt Pearl Lewis Hart received an associates degree in accounting in her 40s, was promoted to supervisor of the payroll department at SUNY Stony Brook and, until her death last month at age 92, was living in her own home on Christian Avenue.

Uncle Harry Hart, Pearl’s husband, owned his own excavation and contracting business from the 1940s to the 1980s. He acquired land on Christian Avenue and rented to many local folks.   

Remembering a few of Dr. King’s principles of nonviolence can help provide the foundation for a healthy society: “Nonviolence is a way of life for brave people; attack problems, not people; know and do what is right even when it is difficult.”     

I know there are many individuals who believe in these principles.

Black History Month means different things to different people, but if it can fill in the gaps, identify injustice, encourage positive dialogue and provide a platform for people to work toward understanding one another, it is a valuable ongoing process.

Geral Lee returned to her Setauket home in 2013 to be with her father after living in Rhode Island for 12 years. She taught physical education and health in Hempstead early in her career and received a personal invitation from her primary school coach Jack Foley, who later became athletic director for Three Village schools, to teach at Ward Melville. She served in the Peace Corps in Senegal, loves dogs and cats and currently relieves stress as a reflexologist.