Wallingford celebrates legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Wallingford celebrates legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

reporter photo

WALLINGFORD — A morning of songs, stories and speeches commemorated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Town Hall Monday.

About 150 people attended the annual town-sponsored celebration of the slain civil rights leader, who would have been 91 this year.

Event highlights include performances by the Lyman Hall High School jazz ensemble, led by Dean DellaVecchia, essay readings by three Lyman Hall students and classic hymns sung by the New Ensemble Choral of the Mount Zion Seventh-day Adventist Church in Hamden, led by Lola Nathan.

Nathan said that after hearing them perform at a Wallingford Seventh-day Adventist church, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. invited the chorus to sing at the annual event.

Remarks from town leaders

Rev. Kathleen T. Cunliffe, First Congregational Church senior minister, delivered an opening prayer. Mary Heffernon, former local librarian, presented a video she selected from My Brother’s Keeper, a leadership initiative of the Obama Foundation. Former President Barack Obama and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, who helped organize the March on Washington in 1963, appeared in the video.

“He (Lewis) is still dedicated to the principals of nonviolence that he has practiced for decades,” Heffernon said.

Wallingford Public Schools Superintendent Salvatore Menzo related the day’s meaning to the 525,600 minutes that make up a year, as cited in the lyrics of “Seasons of Love,” the signature song from the 1996 musical “Rent.”

“Today is a day of action,” Menzo said, “and I want you to all think about what you are going to do with your 525,600 minutes this coming year. What are you going to do to really live what Martin Luther King Jr. wanted us to live?”

Dickinson used his time at the podium to recall the life of Frederick Douglass, who escaped slavery to become one of the great American orators, relating Douglass’ courage to King’s in their respective struggles for abolition and for civil rights roughly 100 years apart.

“He (King) didn’t grow up a slave,” Dickinson said, “but he recognized what the problem was, and through peaceful living and example brings us to the point to just follow the truth.”

State forces Wallingford to close town offices

Since the 1980s, when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was declared a holiday, Wallingford has held an observation ceremony either at St. Paul's Episcopal Church or Town Hall.

Wallingford was the last municipality in the state, however, to adopt Martin Luther King Jr. Day, first giving town workers the holiday in 2001 after the state mandated that towns close government offices, not just public schools, on the holiday.

State Rep. Mary Mushinsky and the late State Rep. Mary Fritz, both D-Wallingford, introduced the bill, which then Gov. John Rowland signed into law in April 2000 on the day of a visit to Wallingford by Jesse Jackson, national civil rights leader and King contemporary.

According to Record-Journal archives, it cost the town more than $30,000 in arbitration fees to defend not giving the unions the holiday without a swap for an existing holiday or other concessions.

Twitter: @LCTakores