For 20 years, I read the Courier Post, and now I’m in its opinion pages. That’s pretty cool. What’s also cool is I got to offer my opinion–and, hopefully, move a conversation forward–about a particular aspect of my hometown, Maple Shade, NJ.
I write about this in my next book, called Shader, but here it is again, in a nutshell, one more time: one night in June 1950, a Maple Shade bar owner threw a 20-year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. out, at gunpoint, refusing to serve him, his friend and their dates. (They ordered beers, but also ginger ales, after they were refused the beers. But that’s not as sexy.)
Recently, some activists have proposed to put a historical plaque or memorial there to mark the spot where it happened. There are a good amount of people from Maple Shade–a couple blood relatives–who say forget about it and move on, why dwell in the past, or what good can come from doing that?
I offer my take on it as a native Shader.
I worked hard on this one. It went through a million drafts, loads of research, interviews and emails, discussions with people from Maple Shade. And a lot of soul-searching.
Here’s a core belief I have: history should be acknowledged, good and bad (thus the piece’s title). That’s probably why I don’t think Maple Shade, my beloved hometown, needs to turn away and continue to exclude it from its history, which it does. The more it’s suppressed–and I’ve come to think that’s the right word for it, suppressed, from town histories, historical societies, even the Wikipedia page–the more complicit it looks we were in the event.
How should it be acknowledged? There I’m not sure. I’m not a plaque-maker or memorial expert. I’m also not a historian.
That’s why I spoke with Clayborne Carson, one of the world’s top King historians, for the story. He’s not the biggest fan of historical markers, either, at least next to highways. But I did like his idea of setting up a website, perhaps along with something to mark the spot, which today is just a patch of grass beside Route 73.
Read the piece here. Below is a screenshot from one of the King biographies that mention the Maple Shade incident, To See The Promised Land (page 153).