Norwich and New London marked Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday on Monday in different ways, with New London religious leaders choosing to hold an online event, while Norwich participants wore winter coats, scarves, hats and masks, for a face-warm like COVID-19 protection.
Cold winds and rain blew from Norwich Harbor into the Market Street garage, as about 50 people gathered to unveil the region’s first full-fledged public art mural for racial justice education on Monday, as speakers emphasized the need to stand up for the rights depicted in the artwork.
The cold didn’t stop the participants from continuing to admire the 142-foot mural painted on the side of the city’s owned garage and pointing to their favorite photos. The work presents portraits of international, national and local figures who have played key historical roles in the advancement of human rights.
The wall includes Cato Meade, the first African American to join the American side in the Revolutionary War. Samuel Ashbow, the first Native American to die on the American side in the Revolution; David Ruggles of Norwich, a prominent abolitionist who helped enslaved people be freed; Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist; James Lindsey Smith, a fugitive enslaved man who settled in Norwich as a successful businessman, and Aaron Dwight Stevens, an abolitionist from Norwich who joined John Brown’s failed raid on Harper Ferry, Virginia, were hanged.
Also shown on the mural is the Connecticut Civil War Twenty-Ninth Color Regiment; Hiram “Harry” Bingham IV of Salem, who helped about 2,500 Jews flee France during World War II; Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer, raised in Norwich, international human rights activist in Argentina from 1958 to 1984; Virginia Christian, the first African American and woman elected to Norwich City Council in 1965, and Jaswant Singh Khalra, Sikh human rights activist from 1952 to 1995.
The work is complemented by emblems of Norwich Police and Fire Departments, Norwich utilities, American flags, and scales of justice.
Reverend David Judd founded Public Art for Racial Justice Education and it quickly expanded to include projects in several cities and towns in southeastern Connecticut, with dozens of volunteers.
Rabbi Julius Rabinovich, a representative of the Norwich-area Clergymen’s Association, told attendees how art through the centuries has helped people understand messages from the Bible and other religions. Norwich, he said, is now adding to the group.
“Art can be an inspiration,” Rabinovich said. “It can give voice to what cannot be expressed in words. A wonderful thing about art is that it is accessible regardless of age, ability and background. This prayer about to be revealed seeks to address the fundamental issues of racial injustice in our beloved community, as well as the many Related stories that cannot be separated from him.
Artist Imeda Roller said the community gathered this fall to paint parts of the mural inside that will be erected once the weather is warm enough. She described how participants would “run to the wall” once the temperature rose above 45 degrees, then return indoors when it got colder to work more, to make sure they finished in time for Monday’s unveiling.
People who walked past the mural on Monday chanted words of encouragement and “Good job!”
After the unveiling, about 35 people continued to visit Norwich City Hall for opening remarks before walking the streets of downtown to the Evans Memorial AME Zion Church for the in-house programme.
Sheila Hayes, president of the NAACP in Norwich, said she and co-event organizer, Reverend Gregory Perry, monitored weather forecasts and COVID-19 trends to determine if the in-person event could go ahead as planned. Hayes reminded participants that the Freedom Marches in recent decades have defied sub-zero temperatures, 100-degree weather, and many other physical obstacles to get their message across.
And they didn’t have all the nice things and warm clothes that we have today,” Hayes said.
There was no parade in New London again this year, but Shiloh Baptist Church hosted a special service for Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Although this service is hypothetical, it is still meaningful, powerful, and moving as we remember and remember what has been done in his service to his church, his service to society, and his service to humanity in general,” said Bishop Benjamin K. Watts, Senior Reverend at Shiloh.
The service included a fiery sermon by Reverend Dr. Franklin Richardson, a pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon New York, and Reverend Michael Cagle, President of the Ministerial Alliance for Southeast Connecticut and member of the Walls Clarke Temple AME Zion Church, Reverend. Sandra R. Adams of Holiness Baptist Church at Mount Moriah Fire in New London and Pierce Timmons, President of the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Trust.
Timmons said that after King was murdered in 1968, students from a local New London high school walked out of the school and into City Hall.
“Many think all hope is gone. Where do we go from there? Hope came from this tragedy,” Timmons said.
After King’s assassination, Dr. William Waller and his wife, Eunice Waller of New London, offered a $100 scholarship to an African American student who represented Dr. King’s ideals.
“That small gesture prompted other community leaders … to start a permanent grant fund trust,” Timmons said.
Since then, the fund has offered 190 scholarships and has grown from a single $100 scholarship to $20,000 over four years. Last year, thirteen scholarships worth $20,000 were awarded to African-American students.
New London Mayor Michael Passero also gave a message that he described as “a difficult year of political and social division in our country”. He spoke about the country’s racial divisions and the violent attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
“Dr. King’s Doctrine of Nonviolence calls us to redouble our efforts to strengthen the institutions of our democracy. This work requires us to continue to identify and cleanse this institution of systemic and institutional racism,” said Passero.
On Monday evening, the Garde Center for the Arts hosted a free performance, “The Martin Luther King Day Healing Concert,” presented by the New London Community Orchestra.
The presentation consists of three parts: works by historical and contemporary black authors; Performance by jazz musicians. And a civil rights anthem featuring singers. The night was scheduled to end with “We Shall Overcome” and “Amazing Grace.”
Staff reporter Greg Smith contributed to this report.