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Martin Luther King, Jr, My Father, and Me

One of my earliest memories of my father was his boast that he had gone to graduate school with Martin Luther King, Jr.   In fact, Rev. King was revered in our house, and his prominence in the media of the 1950’s and sixties as he conducted his freedom crusade throughout the country impressed upon me that he was a truly historic figure.

My own faith in his worthy mission only increased as I matured, to the point where my parents forbade me from going to college anywhere below the Mason Dixon Line.   Given my zeal for the cause, they were understandably concerned for my safety, picturing me joining freedom marches and other dangerous activities of the era.   (They could have saved themselves the angst: I never considered going to college anywhere south of the Hudson River.)

But there is more to this story than a family’s sincere support of equality in America.   My father wanted so desperately to identify with the movement and its iconic leader, that he neglected to mention that, although he did indeed attend the same graduate school (Boston University), he was long gone by the time the younger Martin Luther King, Jr. arrived!   Dad even went so far as claiming to have sung in the same choir – which is carrying hero-worship just a bit too far, but by the time I discovered this bit of mendacity it mattered very little.   (Under the category of “lies my parents told me” this one at least has an underlying lesson in human decency that works for me.)

I’m reminded of this background as a new tourism project has been launched throughout the South which should be of interest to all Americans.   The Civil Rights Trail was officially unveiled this January by 12 Southern State Tourism Offices.   As you might expect, this massive project has been in the planning stages for many years.   And from the looks of it, it was well worth the wait.   Initiated by the National Park Service under former Superintendent Jonathon Jarvis, the project initially identified 60 sites where pivotal events in the movement took place.   Today that list has been expanded to 100 famous and lesser known sites that have been designated as significant in the struggle for Civil Rights.   It is the ultimate example of one of my favorite phrases “where history happened”, and I can’t wait to get started.

Just for the record, the northeast also recognizes many civil rights sites – many of them designated National Historic sites – such as Harriet Tubman’s home in upstate New York, the home of Civil Rights leader Frederick Douglass, several national museums in Washington, DC, of course – plus many more.

For travel professionals who are interested in developing tours of the Civil Rights Trail, there is a great article and comprehensive Travel Guide about the Trail in the March issue of  The Group Travel Leader.

To find out more, visit the Civil Rights Trail website and watch our newsletter for upcoming tours in the region as they become available.

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