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Lawnside Marks Its Special Connection with a MLK Holiday

The historic Camden County borough established a holiday on Martin Luther King's birthday five days after he was killed in 1968.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The borough of Lawnside will commemorate the Martin Luther King holiday with a program on Jan. 20 to mark its special connection to the slain civil rights leader.

The Lawnside Board of Education, led by its president Morris L. Smith, passed a resolution April 9, 1968 -- the day of the King’s funeral -- designating his birthday Jan. 15 a holiday. The Lawnside school board is believed to be the first governmental entity in the nation to do so.  School was closed in accordance with the resolution in 1969.

Smith, who will be the master of ceremonies at the Jan. 20 program, said he believed it was necessary to do something impactful when he convened the special school board meeting just five days after the slaying in 1968.  The resulting resolution was forwarded to the King family and a display has been mounted at the Lawnside School.

Lawnside is the oldest incorporated African-American municipality in the northern United States and neighbors Haddonfield in Camden County. It traces its roots to the abolitionist movement, the Underground Railroad and assistance from the Society of Friends, Quakers in Haddonfield.

The two communities often celebrate the holiday in a joint ceremony.

Several organizations and churches are sponsoring this year's event at the Lawnside Public School, 426 E. Charleston Ave., Lawnside, at 10 a.m. 

Smith, Lawnside’s top scholar when he graduated from Haddon Heights High School, joined the school board in 1960 after earning a degree in chemistry from Michigan State University. He was employed as a research chemist and technology manager for Scott Paper Company where he would eventually be granted patents to introduce colors and patterns into paper products. He was president of the school board from 1963 to 1974.

Panelists will share memories of the day Dr. King was killed, members of the 1968 school board will be recognized and youth will reflect on his impact on American society.  

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