Golden Years: A J. Press Tie For Dr. King


In honor of Martin Luther King Day, Richard Press presents a new and extended version of this anecdote about his father and Dr. King, which he first recounted for his Golden Years column in 2013. It includes a new photo of his father, pictured later in life, standing in front of the very rack from which he was honored to bequeath a necktie to the civil rights icon.

Richard will be speaking at the New York J. Press store on January 24, at a cocktail reception scheduled from 7 to 9. 

 

* * *

In 1961 my father was asked by the leader of Congregation Mishkan Israel to make a pickup at the New Haven train station. The arriving passenger, scheduled to address our reform congregation from the synagogue’s pulpit that evening, was a man whom our rabbi, Robert E. Goldberg, had met as a fellow inmate in a Georgia jailhouse.

The passenger’s name was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A rabbi with a prison record, Robert Goldberg is better known as not only the person who officiated at the wedding of his close friend, playwright Arthur Miller, to Marilyn Monroe, but also as the man who oversaw the actress’s conversion to Judaism prior to the couple’s 1956 marriage. Monroe’s conversion process was famously little more than a two-hour lecture by Goldberg that was described by Miller as less theological than it was “humanistic.” According to an account at the Jewish American Hall of Fame website, on the day of her conversion, Monroe was gifted a musical menorah that played Hatikvah (“The Hope”), the national anthem of Israel.

An early and longtime champion of civil rights and social justice, Rabbi Goldberg was arrested with Dr. King in 1961 during a peaceful demonstration in Albany, Georgia, that was organized to help end the segregation of the city’s public facilities and give African Americans the right to vote. The two men were assigned as cellmates, and during the course of their discussions Goldberg invited the great man to speak at his spanking new temple on Ridge Road in Hamden, Connecticut.

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Since one of the many responsibilities of the president of the Congregation Mishkan was to provide transportation to visiting speakers and visitors, it fell to my dad to pick up MLK at the railroad station on the day he was to speak from the pulpit to the congregants at our temple. Following the event, as they made their way back to the train station, it soon became clear that both men were famished. Dad suggested they head over to Yankee Doodle, a burger shop and college hangout located directly behind the J. Press store on York Street.

After both men made short work of the cheeseburgers, fries, and chocolate milkshakes at the narrow sandwich counter, Dr. King suggested, “How about taking a visiting preacher on a tour of J. Press?”

My dad often spoke of how Dr. King closely and curiously examined the hundreds of ties strewn along the open counter, picking up reps, ancient madders, and wool challis and asking about the history of each and how they should be worn. Interrupting his visitor’s line of questioning, dad chose a midnight blue emblematic tie with crests from one of the Yale colleges and folded it into a long narrow tie bag emblazoned with J. Press’ circular logo.

“It’s on me,” he told King. “But you’ve got to promise me you’ll wear the tie and show the bag.”

Several years later, my father and Dr. King happened to meet by chance at the airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Taking a chance that the recent Nobel Laureate would recall the night at the Doodle as clearly as he did, my dad quickly made his way over to the civil rights leader.

“Dr. King, you may not remember me,”  my father began. Martin Luther King jumped in without missing a beat.

“You’re Paul Press, Bob Goldberg’s friend from New Haven,” interrupted Dr. King. “Don’t worry, Mr. Press, I still wear the tie, but I threw out the bag.” — RICHARD PRESS

21 Comments on "Golden Years: A J. Press Tie For Dr. King"

  1. Very cool. Your tales of Ivy yore are a real boon to this site. Thanks for sharing them.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Mr.Press. You always have the most refreshing posts.

  3. Richard Meyer | August 24, 2013 at 4:36 pm |

    Wonderful!!

  4. Thank you for sharing Mr. Press. A fine story.

  5. Paul Press was a prince of man. My guess it was1964, that was the year that Dr. King received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from Yale.

  6. Fascinating connection. Someone should reference this story any time someone claims that Ivy style is just about elitism.

  7. rene.lebenthal@warema.fr | January 16, 2017 at 11:43 am |

    Thank you for this wonderful post Mr. Press.

  8. G. Bruce Boyer | January 16, 2017 at 12:46 pm |

    Such a wonderful story, beautifully told. Richard Press is a treasury of information, and a treasure of a person.

  9. Always a pleasure to read your reminiscences, Mr. Press.

  10. Ezra Cornell | January 18, 2017 at 12:42 am |

    Great, especially given all the huffing and puffing about the “New England elite” and “WASPS” too often found on this site. It’s refreshing to remember the contributions of Jews and African Americans to this American fashion tradition. Thank you for posting this!

  11. No preppy site has done more to remember those contributions than this one.

  12. Ezra Cornell | January 18, 2017 at 8:04 pm |

    Christian, you are absolutely right. This site has done an outstanding job of highlighting various members of this community. I was referring to the comments section, over which you don’t have control. Accept my apologies, and my appreciation for all you’ve done on this site.

  13. Ezra, thank you for that acknowledgement, as it is truly important to me. Sometime last year there was a panel discussion with Bruce Boyer and some others at the FIT, and a black woman — hardly the typical reader of Ivy Style — came up to me to thank me for what I’ve done on this site during Black History Month. Those kind of interactions with readers are not things I forget.

  14. i absolutely love this story! I love reading things like this! I have even more respect for J. Press now!

  15. Thank you, Richard, for taking the time to embellish this story, which is another amazing example of your personal and family connections to so many prominent figures of the 20th century.

  16. whiskeydent | January 15, 2018 at 4:53 pm |

    I got a lump in my throat as I watched the “I Have A Dream” speech a while ago. It’s back, Mr. Press.

  17. Rene Lebenthal | January 16, 2018 at 9:04 am |

    A beatiful, very human Story.
    Thank you Richard Press for writing it and Christian for having posted it.
    As a european member of the Ivy Style community it is so important for me to be in touch with the America I love: the human, non-Trump, multi-racial and multi-religion country I admire.

  18. Greg Summers | January 16, 2018 at 9:29 am |

    Yes, René, there are still Americans who believe in Egalité and Fraternité.

  19. Rene Lebenthal | January 16, 2018 at 11:31 am |

    No doubt about that Greg Summers!!!
    Merci!

  20. Greg,

    You wouldn’t know it by the regular commenters on this site, who are conspicuously absent from this post.

    Nice change of pace, Christian, even if this is just a repost.

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