Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Walter McCall Oral History

Walter McCall – Oral History Project – Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center
Interviewed by Herbert Holmes

McCall:  My name is Walter R. McCall. I was born in Conway, South Carolina on August 23, 1923. I was taken to Marion, South Carolina as an infant; there I grew up around Marion….

In seminary we played pool sometimes until three o’clock in the morning.

Holmes: Have you participated in civil rights activities?

McCall: The first civil rights struggle that King had ever been in was with me. It was in Maple Shade, New Jersey, in 1950 I think. We went into a restaurant one night and to my amazement it was a discriminating type of place and the man refused to serve us.

The man shoved a 45 in my face while King and our guests were seated at the table. As a result of what took place, I brought a suit against the man. King and I served as our own defense. It was the first time that we had ever been in any kind of civil rights struggle.

The Attorney General for that section of New Jersey, Johnson, was a dear friend of mine. He provided counsel for us and we won our case in the preliminaries. Then it was taken to the Grand Jury. We couldn’t be our plaintiff and defendant at the same time. It just happened that the young white boys who were there and were to testify had brought pressure against them and they couldn’t appear. As a result, we just dropped the thing. I am sure that Ernie, who ran the place, was very happy as well.....

More details on MLK's Camden home


Details uncovered about MLK's former Camden home

 Kevin C. Shelly, Courier-Post10:47 a.m. EST February 18, 2015

Angels tend Camden home said to be visited by MLK

Patrick Duff peeks into boarded up window of Walnut Street home in Camden where MLK once lived.

Like a self-taught detective, Patrick Duff tracked down numerous leads, sharpening a new narrative about formative years of one of the most studied men in American history.

Duff contacted eyewitnesses, met with sources, verified information, wove known facts together, connected gaps, and came up with a surprising — but plausible and still evolving — tale about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Duff, who grew up in Delran and now lives in Haddon Heights, is focused on King's years as a seminary student, from the fall of 1948 to May 1951, at the now-closed Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, just outside Chester, Pa.

During two of those years, King lived with Walter McCall, his best friend and fellow seminarian from Morehouse College in Atlanta, in a borrowed room in the Bergen Square section of Camden.

They lived in a back room of a twin home on Walnut Street, owned since 1945 by McCall's cousin, Benjamin Hunt.

Though it stands battered, empty and now apparently on Camden's abandoned properties list — a city spokesman did not respond to a request for comment — the Hunt family owns the home to this day.
Jeanette Lilly Hunt, 83, the current owner, recalls seeing King exchange greetings and pleasantries at the house when she visited during her early 20s, so the news about King living there came as no surprise.

But Hunt, who is working on a graduate-level course in pastoral counseling, calls the rest of Duff's digging "enlightening."

Now she and her family are looking to have the building recognized as a historical site and eventually restored and preserved as a study center focused on King and civil rights.

Duff's central thesis is that Camden, South Jersey and the region shaped King, turning him toward his life's work.

King's local experiences set him on a path of resisting and defying the barriers of racism and discrimination. They include: being told by seminary leaders to break off his courtship with Betty Moatz, a white woman who worked at the school; having a fellow student, a white man, pull a gun on him; getting rousted from a Maple Shade bar by an owner who discharged a gun when King, McCall and their dates refused to leave after not being served; and working with Camden's Dr. Ulysses S. Wiggins to bring legal challenges to businesses that refused service to African Americans.

"This set him on a crusade," said Duff, a social activist himself who worked in the medical marijuana business in California.

Duff hopes Maple Shade will honor King with a plaque or monument at the long-gone site of the bar where an owner pulled a .45 caliber handgun on King and McCall, who were on their way home from the shore with their dates. 

The township manager, Jack Layne, is awaiting state approval of the memorial, but hopes to go ahead soon.
McCall later recalled the event at Mary's Place as "the first time that we had ever been in any kind of civil rights struggle."

The complaint, later dropped, that King made out in June 1950 against Ernest Nichols, the bar's owner, carries the Walnut Street address in Camden.

That address led Duff to Hunt through her son, retired Willingboro Police Det. Jay Hunt Jr.

"It was like the sky opened up," said Duff, making an angelic hum to accentuate the happiness he felt when he found the address.

Duff, escorted by Kelly Francis, a Camden activist Hunt has known for decades, showed up at Hunt's door on Pine Street, a few blocks from Walnut, about three weeks ago and simply asked if she knew King.
"I just had to say 'Yes,' because I did. But it was still a surprise."

Her children have embraced the news and the possibilities Duff's exploring has opened up.

"This is exciting," said Darlene Hunt Johnson, a music teacher in the Camden public schools.

"This is a memorable moment, exciting. Martin Luther King stayed at my grandfather's," said Shirley J. Hunt.

"This is wonderful," said Jacqueline Hunt, who is married to Jay Hunt.

"This is a part of history. We're blessed to be a part of that history," said the retired cop.

His mother hopes the home will be renovated and "used to boost the city."

Duff said he's happy to see the Hunts are so pleased.

Street-smart and a natural salesman, not a historian, Duff said his instincts as "a real person" have helped him to connect the incidents at the seminary to King's move to Camden — King had initially lived in Chester — and the Maple Shade incident that led King to a lifelong fight for equal treatment.

Duff's exploration began when he looked up an incident in Maple Shade where students were kept out of school due to unfounded fears about Ebola and their visit to Africa, but far from the epidemic.

Then, by happenstance, he discovered the King incident at Mary's Place.

But the more he read, the more the incident sounded like a fantasy — until he found the complaint King made out.

"I visualized what happened. When I found that police report, it was like it was signed, sealed and delivered," Duff said.

Sean Brown, a young Camden activist who had championed another nearby location as the likely home where King had lived, said he is happy to see any effort that ties king's legacy back to a place that helped to change him.

Reach Kevin Shelly at or (856) 449-8684. Follow him on Twitter at @kcshlly.


For more information about the tavern confrontation, click here.

Click here to see the formal police complaint made by Martin Luther King Jr. showing a Camden address.

Children of Camden resident Lily Hunt (L to R) Darlene Hunt-Johnson, Shirley J. Hunt, Jacqueline Hunt (Jay's wife) and Jay Hunt Jr. stand in front of the house on Walnut St. in Camden where Martin Luther King Jr. lived when he was a seminary student in Chester, PA. Their mother Lily owns the property. Monday, February 16, 2015. (Photo: JOHN ZIOMEK/COURIER-POST)

Camden resident Lily Hunt owns the house on Walnut St. in Camden where Martin Luther King Jr. lived when he was a seminary student in Chester, PA. Monday, February 16, 2015. (Photo: JOHN ZIOMEK/COURIER-POST)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Bar that Began a Crusade

The Bar That Began A Crusade

By Michael Capuzzo, Inquirer Staff Writer
POSTED: January 18, 1988

The lunch rush is over at the Moorestown Pub, a smoky tavern full of stories on Route 73 in Maple Shade.
Flora Handler, 55, the new owner, who says her remodeled pub reminds her of the TV bar Cheers, "a bunch of characters sitting around telling stories," is wiping down the grill. Flora's ''characters" - a pipe fitter, a couple of carpet installers, an ex- prizefighter and a half-dozen other men - are retelling the most famous of the stories told at the bar by their fathers, Irish and Italian and German laborers whose sweat built this working-class town.

It's the kind of pub that doesn't forget a birthday, so last week, with the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. coming up (the nation observes his 59th birthday today), everybody recalled the Sunday evening in 1950 when the young Martin Luther King Jr. pulled up to the roadhouse in an automobile, went in and tried to order a beer. What the bartender served him instead, this small town remembers as its big moment in history.

"Yep," says the old prizefighter, draining a Bud, "ol' Ernie Nichols got his gun."

"You sure who got the gun, King or Ernie?" asks another man at the bar, Jim Welsch.

"No, ol' Ernie got the gun and chased him outta here," says the prizefighter, who wouldn't give his name.

Thirty-eight years later, Martin Luther King Jr. is gone, assassinated in 1968. Ernest Nichols, the bartender who got his gun, passed away 12 years ago, but the story lives on, as told to Maple Shade's sons by Maple Shade's fathers. The thing is, the bar has changed hands and names twice since then, and nobody today can agree on exactly what happened.

"I've been in town 27 years, and it's one of those things people talk about," said Jackie McVeigh, the township clerk. "It's becoming a fable. Of course it gets all bent out of shape. Whatever happened, it's not something people are proud of, to tell you the truth."

Whatever happened to the young Martin Luther King Jr., then a student at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, it had a profound impact.

In the early '60s, Dr. King would remember it as the incident that inspired his passion for civil rights.
In Philadelphia today, the memory of the civil-rights leader who died for his dream of freedom and racial harmony will be celebrated at pulpit and podium, in slide show and song. Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat began the historic bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., will tap the Liberty Bell to begin a national bell-ringing ceremony. The Rev. Leon Sullivan, Dr. King's confidant; 80-year-old Bernard Segal, once Dr. King's lawyer; lawyer Almanina Barbour, whose family was close to him when he studied in Chester, and many others will remember that it was in Philadelphia that the young King was first inspired by the nonviolent philosophy of Mohandas T. Gandhi; Philadelphia to which he turned again and again for money and support and ideas during the 1960s' civil-rights struggle. It was Philadelphia that answered Dr. King's call with the largest delegation of any city at the 1963 March on Washington; Philadelphia that has one of the strongest affiliates of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, the Atlanta institution headed by his widow, Coretta Scott King.

Radio talk-show host Georgie Woods, who marched with Dr. King in Selma, Ala., and who was on his WDAS-AM show at 6:11 p.m. April 4, 1968 when he first got word of Dr. King's death, and cried on the air, remembers the man likened in his lifetime to Gandhi and even to Christ.

"He was just like me and you, just a normal person," said Woods. "But he had a dream for all people, black men, white men, all people getting together. . . . I don't hear that now, just once a year. But I don't think the dream is dead. It will rise again."

Mr. Sullivan remembers talking with Dr. King in the kitchen of his home in Atlanta, "trying to deal with the problems of America. . . ." He remembers getting Dr. King's support in 1957 for the 400 black preachers who organized boycotts against Philadelphia companies that discriminated against blacks. In an interview last week, he remembered the struggles of many who found a voice in Martin Luther King Jr.

"His dream continues on," Mr. Sullivan said. "Much of the work we're doing today in South Africa and around the world are attempts to carry out the fulfillment of his dream."

Flora Handler and her husband, Mervin, didn't know their pub's place in history when they bought what was then the Jade Tavern on June 8 from Bill Trainor, whose father had bought it 25 years earlier from Ernest Nichols, who called the bar Mary's Place.

Mervin Handler says he's not proud of, but is intrigued by, the King incident. Some of his regulars, however, said last week that King deserved to be thrown out. "King stopped in here and got wise and they threw him out," says Tim, a 58-year-old builder who refused to give his last name. ''It's a disgrace he has a national holiday. . . ."

Handler disagrees. He says he'd like to find an original newspaper account and hang it on the wall. His wife wonders if the bar can get a tax break as a historic spot.

"Somewhere on the wall behind there," Handler says, pointing to the new 25-inch color TV above the bar, "are the bullet holes, or so they say. . . ."

When he came to the Philadelphia area in 1948, King had rejected Jesus' teachings of "turn the other cheek" and "love your enemies" as unrealistic when dealing with racial segregation, according to Martin Luther King Jr. . . . to the Mountaintop, a 1985 biography. But in 1949, King heard Mordecai W. Johnson, president of Howard University, give a lecture on Gandhi during a visit to Philadelphia.

"His message was so profound and electrifying," King later wrote, "that I left the meeting and bought a half-dozen books on Gandhi's life and works. . . . My skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform."

On a Sunday night in June 1950, King came into Mary's Place with his friend W.R. McCall, a fellow seminary student from Camden, and their dates, Pearl E. Smith and Doris Wilson, who gave Philadelphia addresses, police records show. They had been driving through the countryside on an outing.

Ernest Nichols, the pub owner, was an immigrant who had served in the German army in World War I, and who is remembered by his friends as feisty and temperamental, but a loyal tavern-keeper who served the best draft beer in town.

According to The Trumpet Sound, a 1982 biography, King and his friends took a table at the roadside cafe, in which they were the only blacks. A waitress ignored them.

King went to the bar to ask for beer and four glasses, according to a statement given by Pearl Smith to detectives.

Nichols refused, saying he would not serve King beer because it was a Sunday.

Then King asked for four glasses of ginger ale.

"The best thing would be for you to leave," Nichols said, according to The Trumpet Sound.

Nichols refused; King's party held its seats.

Nichols became orally abusive, according to the police account. The barkeep pulled out the gun he kept, ran outside and fired three or four shots into the air, not aiming at King and his party but aiming to frighten them, the police report said. "I'd kill for less," the bartender cried as he fired his pistol, according to several King biographies.

Nichols was arrested and charged with weapons possession, intimidation and failure to serve patrons under New Jersey's then-two-year-old civil-rights law. But when the matter went before a Burlington County grand jury, several witnesses backed down, and the case was dismissed.

W. Thomas McGann, a retired Burlington County judge who acted as Nichols' attorney in the case, insists the incident was misunderstood. Nichols, he said, often served blacks at his bar. He says Nichols believed that the four well-dressed patrons were trying to entrap him into illegal package-goods sales on a Sunday.
A year later, in the spring of 1951, King graduated from Crozer at the top of his class, went on to Boston University, then back to Atlanta. The meaning of the night at Mary's Place didn't become clear to Maple Shade until the early '60s, when McGann was listening to the radio.

"Martin Luther King was testifying before a senatorial committee in Washington about civil rights, and a senator asked him how he ever became so very interested in the cause . . . and he answered by saying that when he was a young seminarian he was visiting with people in Camden and they were out in the suburbs in Camden . . . when they went into a place to buy a refreshment and the proprietor refused to serve him. . . . I thought to myself, 'I wonder if I had that case.' . . ." McGann called the Camden NAACP, which found on old police records one of the four complainants' signatures: M.L. King Jr.

A few years after the incident, Ernest Nichols moved from Maple Shade to Riverside, where he opened Ernie's Tavern. He died in January 1976 and was buried on the 15th - Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.