Connecticut tobacco field where MLK worked to be historically protected

Connecticut tobacco field where MLK worked to be historically protected
© Greg Nash

The Connecticut tobacco farm where Martin Luther King Jr. worked in the 1940s will be historically protected.

The Trust for Public Land and the town of Simsbury, Conn., announced in a statement on Friday that the property known locally as Meadowood — a 288-acre area that was once a tobacco farm — will be preserved for future generations to learn about the experiences of Black Americans.

“We are pleased to have worked with the Town of Simsbury and many partners to preserve the Meadowood property for generations to enjoy the beauty of this place and learn from the special and often overlooked history of this land,” Walker Holmes, Connecticut state director for The Trust for Public Land, said in a statement.

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The Trust for Public Land and the town of Simsbury said the property, in addition to the experiences that occurred there, “offers important connections to Civil Rights history in Connecticut.”

King, as part of a partnership with Atlanta's Morehouse College, was reportedly sent to the tobacco farms in Connecticut in 1944 to work the fields and earn money for tuition.

He reportedly wrote about his experience on the tobacco farms in letters home during the summers.

Almost 130 acres of the property will be set aside for recreational activities, and roughly 120 acres of the area will be preserved as working farmland, according to The Trust for Public Land and the city of Simsbury.

Additionally, the city of Simsbury kept 24 acres for municipal needs and 2 acres for historical preservation, including interpretative elements that illustrate the history of the land.

With the protection from the state, Meadowood can now be part of the Connecticut Freedom Trail, which is a series of sites that “celebrate the accomplishments of the state's African American community and promote heritage tourism,” according to The Trust for Public Land and the city of Simsbury.

The two entities said they, along with the State Historic Preservation Office, partners, and community members, will generate plans to restore some of the historic tobacco sheds.

The purchase of the Meadowood property came after Simsbury residents, through a referendum, authorized $2.5 million for the purchase of the 288-acre area.

The referendum, which passed with 87 percent of the vote, was established after a grassroots citizen petition.

Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Department of Agriculture and State Historic Preservation Office, in addition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the George Dudley Seymour Trust, also contributed funds to protect the land.

Additionally, “many general individuals, foundations and funders” contributed to the effort, according to The Trust for Public Land and the city of Simsbury.

“The permanent protection of this historic site, including prime and important farmland soils, is a testament to collaboration among partners at the local, state, and federal level,” Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlburt said in a statement.

"Together we will ensure that a cornerstone of Connecticut’s agricultural and cultural legacy remains intact,” he added.