Ruth Poland and her son, 20-month-old Theo Wheeler, enjoy traditional brown bread Monday at the Mount Desert Island Historical Society's annual bean supper fundraiser. ISLANDER PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

Bean supper talk brings history home

BAR HARBOR — Attorney and Acadia Senior College instructor Nat Fenton challenged a group at Mount Desert Island High School Monday with words from the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last speech.

“The question is not, ‘If I stop to help this man in need, what will become of me?’” he said, citing King’s retelling of the parable of the Good Samaritan. “The question is, ‘If I do not stop to help [this man in need], what will happen to him?’”

Fenton’s talk was part of the MDI Historical Society’s annual bean supper fundraiser. He described King’s speech, given April 3, 1968 at Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis, Tenn.

King had come to Memphis at the request of his friend James Lawson, who was a minister there. City sanitation workers in Memphis were on strike following the deaths of two workers who were crushed in a garbage compactor.

The sanitation workers’ strike began in February. King visited and spoke to the group March 15, and said he would come back the following week, but couldn’t make the trip because of a snowstorm. On March 28, King joined Lawson and the group of sanitation workers for a parade, but they cut it short when violence broke out.

Another severe storm (tornadoes this time) was on the way when King returned again April 3. He was traveling with Ralph Abernathy. Abernathy went to the venue first and addressed the crowd. He reported to King that 2,000 people had showed up despite the storm, and TV networks were on hand. Finally, at 9:30 p.m., King took the podium. He had 20 hours left to live.

Fenton played the last 14 minutes of the speech for the group gathered at the high school, but first he gave a detailed, illustrated history of the people, places and events referred to in the speech.

“There’s a reason they called it Bombing-ham,” Fenton said, showing before-and-after photos of a hotel that was bombed the night after civil rights leaders held a press conference there.

He traced King’s work from 1955, when he was elected the head of the Montgomery Improvement Association that led the bus boycott because he was the youngest clergyman in the group and hadn’t yet gotten on the radar of white community leaders, to 1968, when he was assassinated in Memphis at 39 years old.

Historical Society president Bill Horner introduced Fenton. He thanked the cooks of the bean dishes that ran the gamut of spicy, savory and sweet.

Horner welcomed Coast Guard and National Park Service families affected by the partial federal government shutdown, who had been invited to eat for free. The role of the federal government on MDI and in the island’s history is a unique one, he said, and expressed gratitude for the public servants in both agencies.

To illustrate the point, Horner quoted a speech by attorney and judge Luere Deasy from a 1916 celebration of the formation of Sieur de Monts National Monument, which would become Acadia National Park.

“Go with me upon the crest of any one of these hills,” he said, “and look seaward. Upon every headland a lighthouse; upon every sunken ledge a buoy or spindle. The safe channel along the whole coast is clearly marked; and when the fog curtain falls, the nation does not forget its children upon the water, but guides them to safety by signals.”

The Bar Harbor Hannaford donated red hot dogs, cole slaw and brown bread.




Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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