Montclair’s best kept secret: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited and spoke at MHS in 1966!
Exclusive at The Montclair Dispatch.
On Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, the proud students of the Montclair High School Civics and Government Institute (CGI) will unveil a new bronze plaque commemorating the visit by the legendary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This memorable and historical event will take place during the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Fund’s 27th annual breakfast located in the Montclair High School atrium from 7 – 9:30 a.m., which will be televised by TV-34.
Civics and Government Institute is a small learning program designed for students of Montclair High School. “I was genuinely surprised upon hearing that Dr. King spoke at MHS. I’m excited and proud that we can now share this history with our students and the community,” said Thomas Manos, Social Studies Lead Teacher for CGI.
“I was surprised to learn of Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to Montclair High School simply because I hadn’t heard this great news spoken of before, not because it’s unbelievable,” said Andrea McLaughlin, English Lead Teacher for CGI. “It seems almost natural that Dr. King would have visited a place synonymous with diversity and progress. It’s joyous to be in the place where the people you worship have been.”
On Sept. 11, 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Montclair High School at an event honoring the retiring Reverend D.C. Rice of the Union Baptist Church of Montclair.
Stan White, currently President of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund and lifelong Montclair resident, had a few meaningful statements to share. “On the day of the event, Reverend Rice was retiring and Matthew Carter belonged to our church; he had been a minister and the first black Mayor of Montclair,” said White. “They came in first, Dr. King was behind them, everybody that was involved in the program that day assembled in Mr. McCullen’s music room and they greeted us, welcomed us, thanked us for our participation. Then, they went around and shook everybody’s hand. Being a sophomore in the high school, I was just bedazzled; I couldn’t get a word out or say anything. It was one of those awkward moments, but I will always remember that. Because here was the man that we had seen on television, involved in the civil rights movement with all the walks in the south, crossing bridges and he was right here in front of me.”
Not only did White have the extraordinary honor of gracing the presence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he ushered Dr. King in 1966, but dedicated his life to continuously spreading Dr. King’s message. Dr. King had taken a moment during the day’s schedule in 1966 to speak directly to White and asked him, “What are you going to do with your life?” White was forever touched at that moment. He went on to successfully complete college with a BA and MA. Upon his return to his hometown roots, he ensured that African-American students were assisted, where he could, to further their education. To this today, White’s scholarship for graduating African-American seniors has gifted hundreds of students in their educational efforts.
“It is truly an honor to work at MHS where so many of our country’s greatest have walked these very halls and who have been in the MHS band room over the years from Itzhak Perlman to Joe Walsh and now Dr. King himself,” said Jim Wasko, Band Director of Montclair High School. “I am pleased that the memorial plaque will be located in the band room at the very spot Dr. King sat waiting to go on stage to speak. [It is] indeed an honor for MHS.”
Lena Rawley is a Montclair High School Graduate of the class of 2013 and a current student at NYU majoring in Journalism and Gender and Sexuality Studies, and she also previously served as Editor of the Montclair High School Newspaper and Assistant Editor at The Montclair Dispatch. Rawley is also currently contributing to the NYU school newspaper/editorial board. “I had no idea Martin Luther King visited MHS,” said Rawley. “It’s amazing that he did. It makes sense that he would be honored at MHS since MHS is a community that both encourages and represents diversity, just like Dr. King did.”
“I think it’s absolutely awesome,” said Montclair High School Principal, James Earle. “When I was a senior in high school, I had the opportunity to recite his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. [It’s great] to know that he was in the high school that I currently serve in, and that we spend so much time at our school, preaching his message with our students. We hope that they leave there with a real sense of urgency in his message and the foundation to go out [and] help make a better place in our world. It’s really exciting to know that we’ll be able to have this plaque there, to have the footprints there and for people from around the world to come in and really see Montclair High School and someone who meant so much to our country and certainly to our race, and to many of the people in New Jersey and all across the country.”
Photo Credit: NJ Advance Media for the Star Ledger’s original 1966 photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.