New Hampshire became the last state in the nation to celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1999. We speak with Rev. Arthur Hilson, founder of the New Hope Baptist Church in New Hampshire who was among those leading the struggle to get New Hampshire to adopt a state Martin Luther King holiday. [includes transcript]
The nation’s first primary comes one week after people around the country celebrated the federal holiday commemorating the birthday of legendary civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King. It took the government 15 years to create the federal holiday, but it wasn’t for another 16 years that New Hampshire became the last state in the nation to celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1999.
Rev. Arthur Hilson, founder of the New Hope Baptist Church in New Hampshire–where King preached in 1952–was among those leading the struggle to get New Hampshire to adopt a state Martin Luther King holiday.
- Rev. Dr. Arthur Hilson, a community leader, founder of the New Hope Baptist Church. He was among those leading the struggle to get Martin Luther King Day observed in New Hampshire.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, the nation’s first primary comes one week after people around the country celebrated the federal holiday commemorating the birthday of civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King. It took the government 15 years to create the federal holiday. It wasn’t for another 16 years that New Hampshire became the last state in the nation to celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King. Over the weekend, Democracy Now! was in New Hampshire and visited Reverend Arthur Hillson, founder of the New Hope Baptist Church in New Hampshire. Reverend Martin Luther King preached there in 1952. And Reverend Dr. Arthur Hillson was one of the leaders of the struggle to get New Hampshire to adopt the Martin Luther King holiday. After going to the Wesley Clark rally and speaking with Dean and Clark supporters on Saturday, we headed over to Reverend Dr. Arthur Hillson in Portsmouth and asked him how the Martin Luther King holiday was finally adopted by New Hampshire.
REV. DR. ARTHUR HILLSON: Well, I think it was the ongoing struggle, obviously. We — 20 years, one might say. I think we try to do here each year — what we did was bring in someone from the movement. We brought in Fred Shellsworth, Jesse Jackson, King’s daughter, all of those who were very active in the movement, to keep it alive and visible here as a way of saying that we do care and encourage the state to recognize us. Finally it happened in 2000, and the first official, I think, speaker that we had for that year was again Fred Chelsworth from Birmingham. So it was not just me. There are a number of people out there. I’m visible and the church is here, obviously, but it was an ongoing struggle for people who were concerned and committed to having the King day here in New Hampshire.
AMY GOODMAN: What took so long? This is the dead last state in the nation to honor Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday as a federal holiday.
REV. DR. ARTHUR HILLSON: Well, I have oft times said it’s a granite state, live free or die, and I think we have had in the midst of its granite state some people who have had granite, if you will, heads. I hate to say it that way. But I heard things like, you know, this man is not worthy. There were some indiscretions. I even heard the cry he was a communist. All kinds of crazy things. I mean —
AMY GOODMAN: They cited his anti-war speeches?
REV. DR. ARTHUR HILLSON: Yes. Yes, I heard that, too. Finally — in fact, a compromise that came out with — about a year before we finally got it that came and said, we can do this if we call it the Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther King and all other civil rights workers . Jonathan Edwards was a young white seminarian who was killed in the south. And I opposed that. I don’t think you need to have a young white seminarian to validate Dr. King. I think his efforts stood for themselves. And so certainly I opposed that with others. And they finally came around, thanks to Governor Jean Shaheen, who was a Governor who stood up and was counted. She spoke to the issue, and we were able to finally get it after 20 years.
AMY GOODMAN: Is it true that the Klan came and held a thank you rally on the steps of the capitol to thank the people of New Hampshire for not honoring Dr. King?
REV. DR. ARTHUR HILLSON: Yes. The Klan did make an appearance here. That’s not unusual, you know, but what can you expect?
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about the racial makeup of New Hampshire?
REV. DR. ARTHUR HILLSON: Well, in terms of African-Americans, it’s clear that we are less than one half of one percent, we are a very small number. New Hampshire is a small state. There are not a lot of us here in terms of numbers, but we are here, and I think we are concerned, and we care. But this is new england. I mean, we have more than Vermont. We have more than Maine, but, you know, this is not Atlanta. This is not D.C. It’s New Hampshire.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think about this being the first primary? D.C. had one. It was a non-binding primary. But one that has such effect, as well as Iowa, the caucuses, both two of the smallest and whitest states in the nation?
REV. DR. ARTHUR HILLSON: Well, I think that a state should take pride in whatever it has that it can say it’s first in. I have no problem with that. I think that, again, what you get out of New Hampshire, out of Iowa, does not reflect America, per se, in the terms of numbers of people and diversity. but I think it gives you at least a chance for politicians to really get out and meet people, sort of press the flesh. Talk to people and address issues. That’s good. You cannot do that as effectively in a place like Philadelphia or Los Angeles because it’s so large. But this is a place that is small enough to allow you to move through communities and meet people and have coffee and chili cook-offs and all of those nice things. So —
AMY GOODMAN: Have you endorsed anyone?
REV. DR. ARTHUR HILLSON: Yes, I did. I became a delegate for Ambassador Braun. She withdrew and has asked her delegates support Dean. And that’s her request, that is not binding. I certainly have some — you know, some concerns. I like someone, not necessarily Dean, nice fellow he is. Lieberman, nice fellow, but, yes I have someone that I am leaning toward. I’m not saying anything publicly but I — yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you like to share who that is?
REV. DR. ARTHUR HILLSON: I like Kerry. I began with Kerry, and moved somewhat later on. The reason — see, politics, I think, is local. The reason I was with Kerry initially is because he is a veteran. I spent several years traveling the country speaking to veterans issues. And he was always there, and so I can relate to that.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you a veteran?
REV. DR. ARTHUR HILLSON: Yes, I am. And with Braun, I spoke for her because I think it was important for her to be heard. She was a long shot, but if I and others like me didn’t speak for her, who would? And so, it was that kind of thing. So, now she’s gone, so I’m back to, you know — I did like Gephardt. I mean, he had great experience, very nice fellow. I talked with him and looked him eye to eye, and he’s very warm. But I’m — I’m really, sort of, I think, in Kerry’s camp.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think are the most important issues in this country right now?
REV. DR. ARTHUR HILLSON: I think issues that we are concerned about are those that concern most of America. We are concerned about our sons and daughters who are in harm’s way. We are concerned about housing. We are concerned about education. We are concerned about jobs that have moved offshore. Health care, obviously. I think, tuition aids for students, these are issues that I think most of us are concerned about. Senior citizens. You know, I don’t think these issues are issues that can be attributed to any ethnic group. It’s for America at large. We’re all concerned about some of the same things.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you support the invasion of Iraq?
REV. DR. ARTHUR HILLSON: No. No, I did not. And I have seen nothing thus far that has caused me to believe that the position that the Commander In Chief took was a valid one. I think somewhere along the line there was a kind of a blurring of issues. We talked about Bin Laden. And all of a sudden, Bin Laden is on the back page, if you will, and this man becomes the number one target. I just have a problem with that.
AMY GOODMAN: what do you think of senator Kerry having supported the invasion?
REV. DR. ARTHUR HILLSON: Well, I think he voted based on his conscience, and I respect that. I mean, I’m not going to agree with everything that everyone does. That’s very clear. But I think overall, I like Kerry overall.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you do this past Martin Luther King’s birthday, the federal holiday, since it’s so new here?
REV. DR. ARTHUR HILLSON: The past holiday for the first time in a long time, I was in town. Usually I’m out of town speaking somewhere. But this year, I was asked to stay around and I was awarded the — I think, Citizen of the Year Award at the King breakfast this year. So, I was in for that, and I left town that noon and went to Lowell, Massachusetts, Middlesex Community College for a King celebration there.
AMY GOODMAN: Who gave that award?
REV. DR. ARTHUR HILLSON: The Martin Luther King Seacoast Coalition. It was their annual breakfast, I think their 20th annual breakfast, which is a large thing here with all of the local officials and the Mayor and the Superintendent of schools and police chief and all of those folks.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you know Dr. King?
REV. DR. ARTHUR HILLSON: Yes — not that I was an intimate friend of his. I knew him. I was blessed to have met him. I was also involved in some of the marches. In fact, the last march that I was involved in was in Carolina in 1968 when King was shot. That was the hospital worker’s 1199B. Walter Ruth and Anna Young and Abernathy and some others were there. And that was the last march that we had, a major march, but, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Where was that?
REV. DR. ARTHUR HILLSON: In Charleston in 1968. 1199B, hospital workers were out on strike. We marched for that.
AMY GOODMAN: Right before Memphis?
REV. DR. ARTHUR HILLSON: No. This was after King was shot. It was the last major march for the CLC.
AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Arthur Hillson, founder of the New Hope Baptist Church in New Hampshire where Dr. Martin Luther King preached in 1952. One of the leaders of the movement to get New Hampshire to observe Martin Luther King’s birthday. New hampshire the first primary in the country, in a state that is overwhelmingly white, quite small, determining so much of what leads up to who becomes president in this country.