Former tobacco field where MLK Jr worked to be preserved

A plot of land in Connecticut that was once a thriving tobacco farm where Martin Luther King Jr. worked as a college student in the 1940s is being protected for its historic and cultural significance to the state’s civil rights history

SIMSBURY, Conn. -- A plot of land in Connecticut, once a thriving tobacco farm where Martin Luther King Jr. worked as a college student in the 1940s, will be protected for its historic and cultural significance to the state's civil rights history.

Last month's finalized sale of the 288-acre parcel of land was announced Friday. The nonprofit Trust for Public Land and the town of Simsbury plan to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony Oct. 16 for the Meadowood site.

Nearly 130 acres of the land will be set aside for recreational access and roughly 120 acres for working farmland. The rest will be saved for future needs of the town of Simsbury while two acres will be kept for historic preservation purposes to tell the history of the property.

“The permanent protection of this historic site, including prime and important farmland soils, is a testament to collaboration among partners at the local, state, and federal level,” Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlburt said in a statement. “Together we will ensure that a cornerstone of Connecticut’s agricultural and cultural legacy remains intact.”

In what began as a citizens petition drive, Simsbury voters in May overwhelmingly authorized $2.5 million to purchase the property. Various state agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the George Dudley Seymour Trust, individuals and foundations have provided an additional $4 million in funding for the site.

Historians believe King's experiences in Connecticut influenced his decision to become a minister and civil rights leader. He was among a group of students from Atlanta's Morehouse College students who were recruited by tobacco growers in Connecticut to work in the fields so they could earn money for tuition.

“On our way here we saw some things I had never anticipated to see,” King wrote his father in June 1944. “After we passed Washington there was no discrimination at all. The white people here are very nice. We go to any place we want to and sit any where we want to.”

In his later application to Crozer Theological Seminary, King wrote that he made the decision that summer “when I felt an inescapable urge to serve society. In short, I felt a sense of responsibility which I could not escape.”