A large batch of over 200 formerly redacted emails regarding a controversial and unprecedented “research study” that was completed by Stockton University in 2017, which concluded that Martin Luther King’s first documented civil rights battle was historically insignificant, will be released this Friday per a ruling by Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Sarah Beth Johnson.
The study was commissioned by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s Historic Preservation Office (HPO) to help them determine the historical significance, or lack thereof, of Martin Luther King’s former part time residence in Camden, NJ, and to also determine the significance of King’s first civil rights battle, which took place in Maple Shade NJ in 1950 while he was staying at the Camden property. A police complaint from June 12th, 1950 was signed by King and his best friend at the time, Walter McCall, where they both listed their home address as 753 Walnut Street in Camden, NJ, a home I have been trying to have listed on the National Historic Registry since 2015, and from where King and McCall planned the Maple Shade protest.
The police complaint stemmed from an incident where King, McCall, and their two dates, were refused service at a small restaurant in Maple Shade called Mary’s Cafe. This incident has been mentioned in several of King’s biographies, and in 1976 the President of the organization King helped found, the SCLC, said that King would often mention the incident as what began his interest in the civil rights movement. King’s best friend, and classmate at the time, Walter McCall, is quoted in a 1970 interview saying that the incident in Maple Shade was King’s “very first civil rights battle”.
A $21,000 tax payer funded study was mysteriously commissioned by the DEP at the end of 2016 to scrutinize the preliminary application I filed in March of 2015. There are over 51,000 properties that are listed on NJ’s Historic Registry, and thousands more that were denied registry placement, yet only one application has has ever required the need for an outside research team to determine its veracity, which is the application I filed for the Camden home.
The need to commission a study is not the only mystery, but even more mysterious are the findings of the Stockton University team, especially considering several of them seemed to completely change their opinions on the materials, and interviews, that I had uncovered.
One of the main researchers and authors of the study, Paul Schopp, is a self avowed historian who works at Stockton University in a non teaching capaicity. In 2015 I contacted Schopp to see if he had any information regarding the incident in Maple Shade that happened to King, and his response was quite clear.
“Thanks for contacting me about your MLK work. I should tell you that when I found out NJDOT intended to demolish the old tavern on Camden Avenue, I made an 11th hour effort to save it, but the bulldozers won out. I was well aware of what that building meant to MLK’s career as an activist for civil rights.”, wrote Schopp in a 2015 email to myself.
In August of 2016 I saw an article about a civil rights exhibit that was set to go on display at Stockton University, so I reached out to share my research that I had collected up until that point to see is they would like to make it a part of the exhibit. Shortly after sharing I was contacted by Professors John O’Hara and Michelle McDonald, who requested I share my research so they could see if it’s something that can be used in the exhibit, which I sent over on the same day.
About a week later I asked the professors what they thought about the materials, and Professor John O’Hara replied “Thanks again for sending this material – totally fascinating. I haven’t had a chance to talk to Michelle McDonald yet (summer slows things down here!), but as per my previous message, I’d like to create a new exhibition panel for this, the only question being the budget. Once I can get with Michelle to discuss, we should have some word. Have you considered writing an article about this? At Stockton, we just started publishing a journal on SJ history. That could be one place, but certainly there are other venues, too. I would think a peer-reviewed article would help maintain traction, too, on the effort to commemorate the site in Camden.”.
As you can see, one author of the study was alleging to be willing to stand in front of a bulldozer to protect the building where the event took place, and the other author found the material “totally fascinating”, and wanted to add it to the Universities civil rights exhibit, so what changed for them both to conclude in the 2017 study that the same incident, and King’s connection to it, was somehow now historically insignificant?
Shortly after I contacted the Stockton University in 2016, they covertly began discussions with the DEP regarding a study that the DEP was commissioning on Martin Luther King, and his connections to both the home in Camden, as well as the Maple Shade incident. The DEP then issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the study, but the only response they received was from Stockton University, which was awarded even though the communications prior to the issuance of the RFP made it a clear violation of public contract laws in that it created an unfair advantage for the Stockton team.
The Stockton study was cited by the NJ DEP as the basis for their 2020 decision to deny the preliminary application for the home in Camden to be placed on the Historic Registry, as was a 2016 email from a world renowned King Historian, Dr. Lewis V. Baldwin, yet the DEP never shared any of my research with Dr. Baldwin when asked for his opinion. So just days after the release of the 2020 decision to deny my application, I reached out and shared my research with Dr. Baldwin, who I am proud to say has become my good friend.
Dr. Baldwin is clear in his assessment, “From what I have seen so far, I feel that we need to rethink the idea that King’s fight for civil rights began in Montgomery. We have to seriously consider Walter McCall’s claim that “King’s first civil rights struggle” occurred in Maple Shade, New Jersey. We know that King’s earliest sense of the black struggle went back to his childhood, and that he first gave voice to the injustices against his people at age fifteen in “The Negro and the Constitution” (1944) (King Papers, Vol. I, pp. 108-111), and two years later in a letter to The Atlanta Constitution, entitled, “Kick Up Dust” (King Papers, Vol. I, p. 121). But the incident in Maple Shade shows young King actually involved in a protest for civil rights. This is very, very significant.”, wrote Dr. Baldwin in a 2020 email to myself, after reading the materials I sent.
Oddly, the NJ DEP used the expert opinion of Dr. Baldwin on the subject of Dr. King to deny the preliminary application for the Walnut Street home, yet after he supplied them with that same expert opinion on the same research that was now available to both the DEP, and the Stockton team, the DEP still continues to this day to come to the same erroneous conclusion.
The answers to the questions of why the NJ DEP will not recognize the home in Camden, or the incident that took place in Maple Shade, as being historically significant, and the reasons why alleged scholars from Stockton University could help justify such a finding, have alluded me for nearly a decade. That all ends this Friday though, as the redactions get removed, and the truth is finally revealed.