The plot of ground on East Main Street in Maple Shade where Mary's Place once stood is empty now, except for trees planted as a buffer against the steady hum of traffic on busy Route 73.

No one would know that a 1950 incident at the bar helped shape the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s character, and inspired his passion for civil rights.

But Patrick Duff hopes to change that - and has a dream he plans to share with the Maple Shade town council on Thursday.

He wants to create a park at the location, with a plaque, benches, and possibly a statue of King, memorializing his confrontation with a bartender who refused to serve him and his friends.

"If we don't preserve this history, it can be erased," said Duff, 38, a Haddon Heights resident, car salesman, and social activist. "I can't believe something this important to every American would not be commemorated."

He researched what happened that Sunday night more than 63 years ago and found a criminal complaint against the pub owner and bartender, Ernest Nichols.

And that document - signed by King - provided his address, a rowhouse at 753 Walnut St. in Camden, where the future civil rights leader lived in a room while a student at the now-closed Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland.

Like the Maple Shade location, no one would know that the-now boarded-up house was once King's home. It's now occasionally occupied by drug addicts and is marked by graffiti - "1 Wish" - sprayed a few times across the front.

Duff found the owner, Jeanette Lily Hunt, who once lived there and remembered King. The two of them met Monday to discuss transforming the house into a historic site.

"I was about 20 and married," said Hunt, 83, a retired teacher whose husband's father, Benjamin Hunt, owned the house. "I can see him [King] out on the sidewalk, leaning against a car, talking."

On the Sunday night in June 1950, King visited Mary's Place with fellow seminary student W.R. McCall of Camden and their dates, Pearl E. Smith and Doris Wilson of Philadelphia.

They took a table and were ignored by the waitress, so King went to the bar to ask for beer and four glasses, according to statements.

Nichols, the pub owner, refused, saying he was prohibited from selling "package goods" on Sunday or after 10 p.m. on any day, according to a July 1950 statement by his attorney, W. Thomas McGann.

King then asked for four glasses of ginger ale and was told by Nichols, according to a 1982 biography, The Trumpet Sounds, that "the best thing would be for you to leave."

King and his friends held their seats and Nichols became verbally abusive, a police report said. The bartender pulled out a pistol, walked outside, and fired it a few times.

"Mr. Nichols claims that this act was not intended as a threat to his colored patrons," said McGann in his 1950 statement. "The colored patrons, on the other hand, while they admit that the gun was not pointed at them or any of them, seemed to think it was a threat.

"Mr. Nichols on the other hand states that he has been held up before and he wanted to alert his watchdog who was somewhere outside on the tavern grounds," McGann stated.

King reported the incident to police and Nichols was arrested. His signature, as well as McCall's and Smith's, can be seen on a Municipal Court complaint, which stated that Nichols did "willfully refuse to serve beverages of any kind, used profane and obscene language, and intimidation by weapons."

McGann said Nichols had often served blacks at his bar and was concerned that the King party was trying to entrap him by getting him to sell package goods on a Sunday.

The case was dismissed when several witnesses failed to testify before a grand jury.

Standing on the now state-owned ground where the confrontation took place, Colandus "Kelly" Francis, president of the Camden County branch of the NAACP, this week endorsed the proposed memorial and park to honor King.

"I think what happened here should be memorialized," said Francis. "It's part of the healing process. You forgive and move on."

The bar was demolished in 2010. Its location is across the street from a sign reading, "Welcome to Maple Shade - Nice Town, Friendly People."

The township council wants to learn more about the "impact on Dr. King's path and direction" before making any decisions about a memorial, Councilman Louis Manchello said Tuesday.

Miles away, in the Bergen Square section of Camden, Francis and Duff this week stopped to visit the house where the young King lived.

Francis, a retired mail carrier who moved to Camden from Virginia in 1949, once delivered mail to the home, long before King became a national figure. "He was just a student renting a room," he said. "It would be good to acknowledge it now."

The street, like many in Camden, has boarded up houses and trash-strewn lots. But its connection to King gave Duff and Francis ideas.

They left the rowhouse to find its nearby owner in the 300 block of Pine Street. Hunt, who lived there with her husband, Jesthroe, remembered King living in "a back room upstairs."

"We didn't talk a lot - just 'How you doing?' " she said. "He was very polite."

At the time of the Maple Shade incident, her father-in-law met King and the others to help out.

Remembering the lessons of those days is important, and one way of doing that is by marking and preserving the two sites, said historian and author Bill Kelly, a Camden native who now lives in Browns Mills.

"Both should have historical markers and the house should be preserved," Kelly said. "Maybe the restoration of the house would lead to other improvements in the neighborhood."

Added Hunt: "I'd like to see it turned into a historical site. That would have all my cooperation."

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