College students Unveil A Monument To Civil Rights Icon M. L. King in Simsbury

A decade ago a group of Simsbury High School students dreamed of building a permanent memorial to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) after discovering he had spent two summers in their small Connecticut town. Now a new generation of teenagers will unveil the inspirational memorial on Monday, January 18, 2021 at 1 p.m. in the grounds of the Simsbury Free Library. The striking series of five etched glass and stone slabs is a reminder of the civil rights leader’s transformative journey that began in the Simsbury tobacco fields in 1944 and 1947.

The grand opening begins with a brief outdoor ceremony with students, Teacher Advisor Rich Curtiss, Tara Willerup, Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Simsbury Free Library, and musical performances by the Henry James Memorial School Select Choir and Simsbury Intonation Chorus. The COVID safe celebration on MLK Day continues with a parade of cars passing in front of the memorial. The event will be broadcast on Facebook Live with gospel music on the local radio station WSIM AM.

“We invite the public to decorate their cars with balloons, streamers, and other birthday fans, and take part in the Hopmeadow Street procession to mark this remarkable achievement in our community,” said Willerup. “The committee hopes that visitors will be educated, self-reliant and inspired to live a life of inclusion, acceptance and tolerance.”

Willerup explains that the project began in 2009 when a team of 16 Simsbury High School students tried to prove or disprove the popular suburban myth that MLK had lived in Simsbury. “With the help of your teacher, Rich Curtiss, and the staff of the Simsbury Free Library, they were able to document his time here, along with the impact it had on his life.” The small historical library is a treasure trove of Connecticut history and the people who lived there, if only for a short time.

Based on their research, the students created a nationally recognized documentary that examined the importance of Dr. King’s time in Simsbury was for shaping his personal philosophies and for choosing to become minister. The video showed how his visits opened the young king’s eyes for the first time to a desegregated world he was not used to. He saw a land of promise, not a world of segregation.

The idea of ​​erecting a permanent memorial for the experiences of MLK came to four of the students shortly after the documentary was finished. In 2011, a new group of students devoted themselves to designing a stunning display to honor MLK and keep his dream alive. The current student members laid the foundation stone in October 2018. Funding for the $ 120,000 project was raised through the sale of personalized stones along the way, as well as contributions from generous individuals and companies. The donations covered the construction costs and created a fund for education and enrichment programs as well as for maintenance for the future.

“After the documentary was released, the students wanted to make sure that the inspirational teaching of MLK in Simsbury continued to play a prominent role,” said Willerup. “The location of the free library in the center of the city makes it the ideal place for the exhibition.”

To determine both the design and the elements used to convey the essence of the documentary, the students used the expertise of master artist Peter McLean, a professor emeritus in fine arts at Hartford Art School / University of Hartford. They designed a series of five panels of etched glass that appear to float without support. The glass was chosen to reflect the idea that his words should not be tied to walls, but should be available to all people. Each panel shows a different aspect of MLK’s life:

  • Family history
  • Trip to Simsbury
  • Time spent in Simsbury and why it was important to his life
  • Leaving Simsbury and returning to a separate way of life
  • Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Life and Later Legacy

The entrance and exit markings are on the south and north sides of the monument, respectively, to convey MLK’s journey from the south to Simsbury. These markers are made from brownstone, a native Connecticut stone that is used in many of Simsbury’s historic buildings. There is also a Georgia granite bench from MLK’s home state.

Architect Jay Willerup donated his time to translate the students’ vision into actual building elements. He drew the plans, certain materials, fixings, dimensions, etc., all with the students’ involvement. Construction company Simscroft-Echo Farms Inc. in Simsbury has completed the project.

“It is important to recognize that the memorial is not just a memorial, but a place where people can sit, reflect and learn about the beginnings of Dr. King’s lifelong commitment to justice, peace and equality,” Willerup concludes. “We are delighted that the memorial has been selected as a destination on the Connecticut Freedom Trail so that Simsbury can continue the inspirational work of MLK.”

Via the Simsbury Free Library

The Simsbury Free Library (the Simsbury Genealogical and Historical Research Library) at 749 Hopmeadow Street in Simsbury encourages interest in genealogy and history by providing access to research material and expertise, artifacts, and educational and cultural programs to help visitors develop help the library skills required to build family trees, search local histories, look up census records, search key records, etc.

The Simsbury Free Library – The Lovable Yellow Lady – is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and by appointment. To sign up or for more information, visit or call (860) 408-1336.

PHOTO: A memorial to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the transformative months he spent in Simsbury, Connecticut will be unveiled on January 18, 2021 on the Simsbury Free Library lawn at 749 Hopmeadow Street after protections against social distancing. Photo credit: Simsbury Free Library

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