It is Thursday, April 4, 1968, and Martin Luther King, Jr. has been assassinated. Hope is gone! In desperation, students at New London High School walk out of classes to march to City Hall. Arena Eccleston, then a teacher, urges them to return to class or to suffer suspensions. It is a troubled time for the entire city. In the hope of ameliorating the tense climate at that time, Dr. and Mrs. Waller offer a one hundred dollar scholarship to a student, chosen by popular vote, who best represents Dr. King's ideals. Thus, Herbert Ross of New London High School became the first Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholar.
The idea of the award inspired Clarence H. Falk, Jr. to call a meeting of the key community leaders to discuss starting a trust fund for a permanent scholarship that could be awarded annually to African American students in New London County high schools. Charter members of the Board of Trustees included Mrs. Eunice Waller, a teacher in Waterford Schools; Mr. Ralph E. Wadleigh, vice president of Hartford National Bank; Mr. Kenneth E. Grube, an editor at The Day; the Rev. Norman M. McLeod, Jr.; the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Paul J. St. Onge; Rabbi Leonard Goldstein; Atty. Michael Shapiro; and Mr. Richard Martin, Mayor of New London.
Scholars would be chosen in their junior year of high school through a selection process designed to measure dedication to learning, understanding of Dr. King's mission, demonstration of character, and financial need. The first two scholars selected by the newly formed board were Lawrence Wilson, Jr. and Larry Lewis. Since 1968, over 150 scholarships have been awarded, and the scholarship amount has grown to twenty thousand dollars, distributed in five thousand dollar installments over a four year period while the scholar remains in college.
The selection process requires applicants to provide academic records, SAT scores, and class standing for the committee's review. In addition, candidates must submit an essay. Finally, students who are selected as finalists are interviewed by the scholarship committee, which makes a recommendation to the Board of Trustees based upon the interview and the data presented.
Individuals and organizations throughout the southeastern Connecticut region continue to respond to the call for contributions. The fund operates with virtually no overhead expenses, thus ensuring that all contributions directly support scholarships. The major fundraising initiative is the annual dinner, held in October, which brings together yearly more than 600 citizens from all segments of the community in celebration of the academic accomplishments of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. scholars.
James E. Mitchell, Ph.D.,
President-The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,
Scholarship Trust Fund