Spencer Street home to get marker, historic status for MLK visit

By HASKEL BURNS,

A Hattiesburg house that played host to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his March 1968 visit to the Hub City has been designated by Hattiesburg City Council with Recognized Historic Landmark Status and will soon be recognized with a historical marker in front of the home.

The house, which is located at 1004 Spencer St., was owned at the time by Benton Dwight, who helped organize King’s visit to the city. The civil rights leader stopped at the home and visited with the Dwights and their children before heading to deliver a speech at Mount Zion Baptist Church.

“We all know that when Dr. King made his historic visit to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, it did not just happen by accident,” Benton’s daughter, Lillie Dwight, told council members at a recent meeting. “There were people who organized this visit, and my father was one of those individuals. 

“He has already been recognized by Mount Zion Baptist Church, when he received the 1997 (Torchbearer) Award from that church. (King’s visit) has helped define everyone in the city of Hattiesburg, and it has historical significance to the city.”

The marker, which was approved by a 5-0 vote of the council, will be erected in the front yard of the home in the near future. The marker will bear a brief history of the house – which also is the birthplace of civil rights activist Peggy Jean Connor – along with an inscription of the Hub Sign that originally sat atop the Ross Building in downtown Hattiesburg.

“Obviously the state has (historical) markers, but the city kind of felt like we wanted to do some of our own to recognize sites that may be historical to our city and to our community,” Ward 1 Councilman Jeffrey George said. “So really, the marker provides that historical context to the home and provides that designation as a municipal-level historic site.”

To qualify for the Recognized Historic Landmark Status, the Dwight home was required to meet several criteria, including being identified with historic personages or important events in history; exemplification or reflection of broad cultural, political, economic or social history; and exhibit special character or historical and/or cultural or social interest or significance.

“I think that Hattiesburg has a great history, and I think there’s a lot of things that have happened here,” George said. “So, I think this marker, and ones that will come in the future, are a great way for us to recognize historical events and educate people now about the things that have happened here in our city, and why they should be so proud to live in Hattiesburg.

“And specifically, for this one, the fact that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Hattiesburg, and this was a home that kind of helped host him, that’s very significant to our city.”

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