Archived: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lived in Camden, NJ Yes House to Become a Historic Landmark

A house in Camden, New Jersey, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once lived will be preserved as a historic landmark.

The address, 753 Walnut Street, was listed on a police report by Dr. King in 1950, at which time he and his friends were refused service at a restaurant. Patrick Duff, a historian, unearthed this information. According to Duff, it is believed that this incident served as inspiration for Dr. King’s civil rights mission.

Jeanette Hunter, the home’s current owner, received a demolition notice in July. However, after Duff’s discovery, Hunter and non-profit group Cooper’s Ferry Partnership reached an agreement to have the home preserved. The house’s important place in history has not been lost on many.

“I’m proud that I was able to bring our community together to help restore and save this important piece of American history,”Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ)said in a statement. “We owe it to future generations to ensure this national treasure is safeguarded for many years to come.”

“The work Dr. King started decades ago is still unfinished. The property, which stands now as a simple row home, can serve as a touchstone for generations to come as they learn about Dr. King and his deeds to make our country stronger and more inclusive,” said Congressman John Lewis.

“I am delighted that the momentum to preserve this historic house is gaining the attention it rightfully deserves,” Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd said in a statement. “The city is committed to work with the owner of the house, Ms. Hunt, as well as Congressman Norcross, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership and others to do what is necessary to save this wonderful piece of history.”

Cooper’s Ferry Partnership is dedicated to the redevelopment of Camden and takes on different community initiatives. The non-profit is undertaking the repairs on the house as a search begins for an organization to maintain the house.

“It’s obvious this house is critical to our past and needs to be preserved for the future. We’re proud to be partners making this a reality,” said Anthony Perno, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership’s CEO.

The Camden Historical Society is expected to announce the decision at its next meeting.

Incident at Mary’s Caf

The incident cited in the police report that Duff believes inspired Dr. King’s activism occurred on June 12, 1950, in Maple Shade, New Jersey. Dr. King was a college student at the time and entered Mary’s Caf with three friends. While it is unclear exactly what transpired, Duff reported that Dr. King and his friends were refused service at the bar, and a bartender, Ernest Nicholas was arrested. Charges against Nicholas included refusal to serve beverages, intimidation by a weapon and obscene language.

But this story is not widely known. “MLK didn’t want this to be public because he was walking into a bar in the 1950s. History needs to be challenged, though, if it’s correct,” Duff explained.

However, it serves as a vital piece of American history, Duff believes. “Just think if that never happened at Mary’s Caf, Blacks may not be able to go to the same hospital as whites now,” he said.

The building where the caf once stood was knocked down in 2008. Duff said the space, which was at least partially used to expand a highway, should be dedicated to Dr. King’s civil rights journey and the events that transpired throughout his life.

“If we don’t preserve history like this it will be forgotten,” Duff said. “I’m ready for some people who won’t be willing to accept it, but some will.”

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