About a week ago, News 8 aired an exclusive story about 91-year-old Thelma Williams of Waterbury. She grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, the same neighborhood as Martin Luther, King, Jr.
“He lived the next street over,” she said.
Thelma started sharing memories with News 8 — like how a young Martin Luther King would preach in churches and “everyone would go see him” and how he encouraged her and others to get involved in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement in which African-Americans would boycott using public transportation to protest discrimination and segregation.
She says Dr. King convinced her and others to help those boycotting the buses get to and from work in their cars.
“So I would pick them up every morning when I was going to work and give them a ride, too,” Thelma said.
Grace Morikis, a 4th grade teacher at Bunker Hill Elementary School in Waterbury, saw our story on the news and decided to use it as a teaching tool for her students. She showed it again on the big screen in her classroom and the students discussed it. They thought it was cool that someone in their city knew Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
So, she let the kids make cards and letters for Thelma Williams, hoping that she can find her address and mail all of the kids’ items to her.
When News 8 found out about this, we stepped in to help. We hand-delivered the kids’ creations to Thelma and she was moved.
“This is beautiful,” she said.
Before we delivered the cards and letters, News 8 arranged for Thelma to speak to the students via speakerphone, answering any questions they may have.
“Did you have a real conversation with Martin Luther King?” one student asked her over the phone.
“Sure, yes I did.” Thelma answered. “He had a lot of strength. I also went to his church.”
“He’s a really big inspiration to me,” the student answered, continuing the conversation. “Because of everything that he did and now there’s no more segregation and have to split up with different bathrooms so I’m very grateful for him.”
“I can understand how you feel,” Thelma said.
Ms. Morikis was happy to see her students so excited to speak with Thelma Williams today because she says it gave them a spark when it comes to wanting to learn about history.
“We live in a city of different races,” she said. “And Martin Luther King solved problems with what?” she asked the kids.
“Non-violence,” some students answered back.
At the end of the day, the students shouted a huge “Thank You!”
Thelma was very pleased.
“I’m glad I could do a small part to help them understand history,” she said.