Stratford man honored for chronicling Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Connecticut history
As America celebrates the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend, a man with ties to King's family explains the role Bridgeport played in King's extraordinary journey as a civil rights leader.
Sit down with 68-year-old Donald Smart, of Stratford, and you'll be talking with a man of many surprises.
The Harvard-educated attorney was a professional basketball player for one year and was once featured on the cover of Ebony Magazine. In 1996, he played an FBI agent in John Grisham's legal film drama "A Time to Kill" starring Sandra Bullock.
But Smart said what he's proudest of is the real-life role he plays as amateur historian specializing in Martin Luther King, Jr. and the time he spent in Bridgeport.
"Many people do not realize that Dr. King spoke here at Lyon Terrace, when it was then Central High School," Smart said. "And Dr. King also spoke at the Klein Memorial Auditorium in March of 1961. And then, in 1964, Dr. King came here to the University of Bridgeport. By that time he had catapulted to international acclaim."
Smart has photos that show King during those visits to Bridgeport.
"As a matter of fact, Martin Luther King visited Bridgeport at least five times in the early 60s," Smart said. "And the opportunity he received in Connecticut is what contributed to his development as a civil rights champion."
Smart met with Sen. Richard Blumenthal Saturday, who honored him this holiday weekend for his efforts to help build awareness about the role Bridgeport played in the life of King.
"And now he is using those experiences to show us how Martin Luther King's journey can inspire and move us all," Blumenthal said.
A man who's spent a lifetime surmounting barriers wants kids around here to know they have a special connection to King.
"William Faulkner was correct. The past is not dead. It's not even passed, but you still have to remember it," Smart said.
Smart added that he was honored to work closely with King's family when he practiced law in Atlanta.
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