Effort underway to turn MLK's former Camden home into museum that honors his legacy
An effort is underway to turn a Camden home where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once lived into a museum that honors his legacy.
For three years, King called the house in Camden his home. From 1948 to 1951, while going to Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, he spent half of his time on campus and the other half in the New Jersey community.
"Here in this city, there is a lot of history, and this is a part of it. For Martin Luther King to have lived here, studied here, and planned his protest here, is phenomenal," said Yocontalie Jackson, freelance curator Camden County Historical Society.
A young King actually planned his first protest while he lived in Camden.
"He was a young man. He was in his 20s. So before he was behind the pulpit and doing his 'I Have a Dream' speech and things like that, this is where he started. This is where it was planned," Jackson said.
In 1950, the then 21-year-old went with his childhood friend and two young women to the now demolished Mary's Cafe in Maple Shade. According to a police report, they were denied service by the owner of the cafe and told to leave. When they refused, the owner got out a revolver shot outside the restaurant once and said, "I'd kill for less."
"Most people, the books, the movies talk about it starting in 1955 with Rosa Parks with the Montgomery bus boycott. But when you start to think of it, back it up five years. What you are experiencing right now is we are rewriting history," said Pastor Amir Khan, owner of King’s house.
King would end up filing a police report against the owner. He was then charged with disorderly conduct and violation of New Jersey's 1945 civil rights law that prohibits refusal of service based on race.
The tavern was demolished in 2011, but a sign that recalls the historic event and honors King was installed in 2018.
"This is the very first time that this national law was ever used by Dr. King, planned out of this house, right here in Camden, New Jersey," Khan said.
The hope is to continue to honor the legacy of King by turning the house where he stayed into a museum.
"We're believing that over the next year, we'll be able to have this total place remodeled, have a big grand opening," Khan said.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Fire severely damages New Jersey house where MLK stayed