For My Father and Carolyn, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

I’m told my father introduced me to Martin Luther King, Jr. when I was 5 years old, but I don’t remember.
I do remember watching the March on Washington on our small black and white TV on my 9th birthday, looking for my father in the crowd, and listening to the I Have a Dream speech.
But it was in 1965, when he returned from the Selma to Montgomery March, that Carolyn Williams joined our family.
I couldn’t find much about my father on the Web. An entry in the Brown University encyclopedia describes my father’s employment there. It was during this time that he met Martin Luther King, Jr. and introduced him to the family.
My father was the son of a Seattle drycleaner and the daughter of a pioneer Swedish farming family from Bothel, just outside Seattle. He was the first in his family to attend college, and hitchhiked east attend Union College. At Yale Divinity School, where he got his B.D., he met William Sloan Coffin, a civil rights activist.
You never know what you’re going to find. Here’s a Christmas poem my father helped write while living at the Swedish Home.
Be careful what you look for, too. I found a brief obit from the Brown University Alumni Magazine. I’m not sure he ever finished his masters in American Studies, but they have him as a ’64 graduate. You have to go pretty far down the page, or search, to find it. I broke down on seeing this. Maybe it was because of the juxtaposition with Christmas, which he loved so much, and always tried to make so special for all of us, and the tragedy of what, in retrospect, was an easily avoidable stroke. He hung on for 13 years after it disabled him.
I gave the eulogy for him at the Swedish Home on the Sunday following his death – just 10 years ago now. The pastor kept telling me to emphasize hope, the strongest quality he saw in my father, and something that would encourage the other residents.
When he finally came back from the Selma to Montgomery march it was with the news that a teenage girl (Carolyn) would be coming to live with us from Belzoni, Mississippi. We knew she was in some kind of trouble and we were helping her out, but that was about all.
Carolyn finished high school while living with us, went on to college and met her future husband, Jerry Scott. During her memorial service last November the minister read the eulogy she had no doubt helped prepare. We were all listed in the first paragraph, my mother and father and two sisters and brothers. Her beloved adopted family. My sister.
Carolyn worked for a long time for Bob’s Stores, which started in Middletown (where we lived), eventually getting promoted to manager. But after a while she decided she really wanted to work with kids. She joined the Community Renewal Team in Hartford, helping get a Head Start program going, and also became a classroom assistant.
When she was program director two of her staff won national awards. Fittingly enough one of the schools was named after Martin Luther King.
I remember the day MLK was shot. It was as bad as JFK, maybe worse since it was after. I was let out of school to attend the memorial service at the Wesleyan University chapel. My father was chaplin and during the eulogy he broke down in tears. I did too. It was hard to keep hopeful in the face of such tragedy.
May he and Carolyn rest in peace. Let’s take a moment to remember the work of good people who help other people, like MLK Jr., my father, and Carolyn, and take a moment to hope for the best for the world.

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3 responses to “For My Father and Carolyn, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

  1. Eric,
    the most moving entry I have ever read on the Web. I spent most of Monday on Kiawah Island, SC, before setting off on the long journey back home to Bavaria.
    Thank you!
    John

  2. Thank you Eric for this very touching memory. My family has been profoundly blessed by the courage of people like Marting Luther King Jr.

  3. Very thought provoking. The history of him in CT isn’t well told…