A young Martin Luther King Jr. might have gone on to any number of careers, but for one inspiring summer in Connecticut. He was there as a teenager, earning money for college by working on a tobacco farm, and he was shocked by the lack of segregation he found. “After we passed Washington there was no discrimination at all,” he wrote to his father in 1944. “The white people here are very nice. We go to any place we want to and sit any where we want to." In a letter written days later to his mother, he noted, "I never thought that a person of my race could eat anywhere but we ate in one of the finest restaurants in Hartford."
King made his decision to become a minister after his fellow students at the farm made him their religious leader. His sister tells the AP King experienced a “metamorphosis” that summer; he himself described it as “an inescapable urge to serve society,” he wrote in his application to Crozer Theological Seminary. Says a local student who worked on a documentary about King’s time in Connecticut, “Perhaps if he hadn't come to Connecticut … hadn't felt what life was like without segregation, he may not have become such a leader in the civil rights movement.”