By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff
In the last year, Bird Park in Walpole has hosted a variety of different history walks. Each of these shows the local connections to historical events and people. As a history lover, these walks bring me a ridiculous amount of joy. Past walks have included the history of indigenous peoples, the suffrage movement, and the Civil War. The most recent walk centered around Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his work during the civil rights movement. Despite celebrating his birthday each year and studying the civil rights movement in college history courses, I’ll admit that I don’t know as much as I thought about Dr. King. Luckily for me, this walk was available so I could learn more about him.
Each Bird Park walk is placed in a different location than the last. The newest addition was placed along the fence surrounding Bird Park’s ball courts. It was easy to spot for people spending time at the playground or attempting to play a round of basketball. I’ll be the first to admit that I spend little time in this area, only walking by when I’m walking to or from the parking lot.
On this particularly chilly and windy Sunday, the park had far fewer people than it usually does. The ball courts were empty, the only sound coming from the wind howling as it passed through the chain-link fence. Normally, I’d be unsettled by the emptiness, but I was a bit glad on this day. There was less of a chance that I'd have to stop my work to explain that I’m a reporter taking a voice memo for the story, and not a babbling lunatic having a breakdown in the middle of Bird Park.
Unlike the other walks, this one started off with a look towards the future. “This year, 'The Embrace,' a new memorial honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., will be installed in the Boston Common. King wasn’t born in Boston, he didn’t die in Boston, and he didn’t give a famous speech in Boston, but Boston did play an important role in King’s life,” the first post noted.
I moved to the second post, where the bolded print shocked me. “King’s birth name was Michael, not Martin.” The post went on to explain how King’s father became inspired by the works of Martin Luther while away on a trip. When he returned, he changed his own name, and the name of the then-five-year-old MLK, Jr. Many of the posts contained similar facts - for example, that MLK Jr entered college at only 15, that he spent his wedding night at a funeral parlor, and that he was a Star Trek fan. I have to admit, I chuckled a bit when I found out that MLK Jr was a Trekkie; it humanized him in a way that I had not encountered before.
There were some upsetting facts included in the walk, as well. MLK Jr was almost killed ten years before his death by a mentally ill woman while he was signing copies of his book, "Stride Toward Freedom." He later remarked that he held no ill-feeling towards his attacker. In 1974, King’s mother was killed by a gunman who had entered the Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Some of the other posts highlighted interesting aspects of Dr. King's work during the civil rights movement and his cultural impact. His famous “I Have a Dream” speech, for example, was partially improvised. The speech was still not finished just 12 hours before he was supposed to speak; the concept of the “dream” was not added until singer Malia Jackson urged him to speak about it.
While reading each of these posts, I could not help but think of the summer, when people marched through American towns and cities to demand an end to racism and police brutality.
It has been decades since Martin Luther King, Jr. led protests and marches, but the essence of his work remains present and vital.