1967. Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
visits Fire Island.
Fifty years ago, on Sept. 2, 1967, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the guest of honor at a fundraiser in Seaview, Fire Island.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. waves from a Zee Line ferry to the crowd who came to greet him in Seaview, Fire Island. Below. (Photo Credit: Newsday/Stan Wolfson)
Martin Luther King Jr. was a social activist and Baptist minister who played a key role in the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. King sought equality and human rights for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged and all victims of injustice through peaceful protest.
Martin Luther King Jr. lived an extraordinary life. At 33, he was pressing the case of civil rights with President John Kennedy. At 34, he galvanized the nation with his “I Have a Dream” speech. At 35, he won the Nobel Peace Prize. At 39, he was assassinated, but he left a legacy of hope and inspiration that continues today.
Dr. King started early. In 1956, less than six months after receiving his Ph.D. in Theology, he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It was in response to Rosa Parks’ arrest for failure to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man. The resultant publicity catapulted him to the leadership of the civil rights movement. Dr. King adopted a policy of non-violent civil disobedience, based on the philosophy of Henry David Thoreau (a FI visitor himself) and Mahatma Gandhi. He led demonstrations, sit in’s, and voter registration drives to call attention to the plight of African-Americans.
On Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. King led the historic March on Washington, attended by an estimated 250,000 people. The event culminated in his “I Have a Dream” speech, heralded as among the finest in American history.
On Sept. 2, 1967, while most Fire Islanders were going about their business unaware of history in the making, Dr. King arrived on Fire Island as a guest of John Morrin. At a rally in Seaview, Dr. King spoke about community, the war in Vietnam, anti-Semitism and the need for a third political party. After the rally a cocktail party was held in Ocean Bay Park, at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hyman Abbott, where $4,000 was raised ($30,000 in today’s money).
In spite of the fact that posters had been torn down throughout the community, the gathering was still attended by more than 1,500 people. It elicited responses from the predominantly white audience such as, “tell them, brother, tell them.” Authors Herman Wouk and Bel Kaufman were in attendance, and both expressed enthusiasm about hearing the civil rights leader speak, but were dismayed regarding the poor reception from some residents. Kaufman was quoted in The New York Times on Sept. 4, 1967, saying, “The people you would like to reach are never the ones who show up at meetings.”
Michael Abbott of Ocean Bay Park remembers that Dr. King spoke to a large crowd of people gathered on the beach at K Street in Seaview and later attended the fund-raising cocktail party for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Dr. King spent the night at the Abbott home, and Michael, age 13 at the time, had breakfast with him the following morning.
By Thomas McGann F.I News 1/14/2018