Remembering King’s visit to Montclair High School
Effe “LaVerne” Shears was a teenager when she saw Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Union Baptist Church. Though this was in the 1960s, she remembers very specific details about the day. She remembers not wanting to sit with her parents because “teenagers don’t want to sit with their parents,” she said. She remembers King was escorted by a lieutenant from the Montclair Police Department, Ralph O’Neil Ellis.
But one of the enduring memories of that day for Shears is Coretta Scott King’s hands.
“She had the softest hands I ever touched in my life,” she said. “Her hands were like tissues. I just can't even describe it — it was so soft.”
King and the Rev. Deua C. Rice of Union Baptist were longtime friends — so much so that King returned to Montclair to speak at Rice’s retirement ceremony at Montclair High School in 1966.
Residents like Alfreda Massop remember not only seeing King on that Sunday but also Aretha Franklin and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
On the day that King visited the high school, John McGill Jr. was chosen as one of his bodyguards. At the time McGill was a detective for the Montclair Police Department. His son, John McGill III, remembers his father being proud to protect King.
“My father was so honored to have had the opportunity to serve and protect Dr. King,” McGill said. “He was very highly saddened, as all of us as a nation were, when 18 months after Dr. King visited Montclair he was assassinated.”
Now, 57 years later, Montclair is marking King’s legacy with several events leading up to and on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
On Sunday, Jan. 15, Union Baptist Church will be holding an interfaith worship celebration that starts at 11 a.m. The guest speaker is Larry Hamm, founder of the People’s Organization for Progress. The event will be livestreamed.
Fleet Feet Montclair has organized an MLK Unity Walk/Run in Nishuane Park for Sunday, Jan. 15. The event will start at 8 a.m. At the event, toiletries will be collected for Toni’s Kitchen and feminine hygiene products for GrassROOTS Community Foundation. The event is in partnership with Black Men Run NJ and Brooks.
On Monday, Jan. 16, Watchung Elementary School will hold a day of service from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. that will include assembling bags for Toni’s Kitchen, writing “Thank you” letters to local firefighters and a book sale on MLK-related books. Dr. Marcia Heard of Arts, Culture and Community Activism will be speaking.
Also on Monday, Jan. 16, Montclair Gateway to Aging in Place will be partnering with the PTA of Edgemont School to host an intergenerational program in which students can hear from seniors about their memories of the day King came to Montclair High School. The event will be held at Bradford Elementary School from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.