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


In honor of Martin Luther King Day, we revisit this column from Richard Press, which originally ran in 2013 and was updated in 2018 with an extended version of  the story and 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.

* * *

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.

jpmlk

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

30 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. Vern Trotter | January 21, 2020 at 11:47 am |

    I just read in Cindy Adam’s column that writer, poet and critic Dorothy Parker of the Algonquin Round Table and such, left her entire estate to MLK Jr. Amazing as they had never met. If someone killed him, as happened about two years later, I think, it was to be given to the NAACP who still controls it from their headquarters outside Baltimore.

  21. In these days were the ‘R’ phenomenon seems to be prevalent on several sides of the debate, may I just quote my favourite sentence by Dr King:

    “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”.

  22. This is one of several articles that changed my perception of MLK – https://standpointmag.co.uk/issues/june-2019/the-troubling-legacy-of-martin-luther-king/.

    “Newly-released documents reveal the full extent of the FBI’s surveillance of the civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King in the mid-1960s. They expose in graphic detail the FBI’s intense focus on King’s extensive extramarital sexual relationships with dozens of women, and also his presence in a Washington hotel room when a friend, a Baptist minister, allegedly raped one of his “parishioners”, while King “looked on, laughed and offered advice”. The FBI’s tape recording of that criminal assault still exists today, resting under court seal in a National Archives vault… The complete transcripts and surviving recordings are not due to be released until 2027 but when they are made fully available a painful historical reckoning concerning King’s personal conduct seems inevitable.”

    Read the whole damning article which outlines the massive scale of MLK’s disgusting and immoral activities. This section is just one example –

    “At the Willard Hotel, King and his friends’ activities resumed the following evening as approximately 12 individuals “participated in a sex orgy” which the prudish Sullivan felt included “acts of degeneracy and depravity . . . When one of the women shied away from engaging in an unnatural act, King and several of the men discussed how she was to be taught and initiated in this respect. King told her that to perform such an act would ‘help your soul’.”

    If we are to judge MLK’ by the content of his character, we should damn him as a degenerate adulterer and hypocrite.

  23. Vern Trotter | January 22, 2020 at 10:52 am |

    “Don’t be afraid to see what you see!”
    —Ronald Reagan

  24. @Ben Braddock. Yes. I apply the yardstick equally but you obviously do not. If Thomas Jefferson had affairs with dozens of women and participated in orgies, I would condemn him as a serial adulterer and hypocrite. Can you provide any evidence that Thomas Jefferson engaged in such immoral conduct? If not, what’s your point? To imply that I’m a racist?

    HarveyWeinstein is rightly being condemned and prosecuted for such activities, or “flaws” that you call them. No doubt you would similarly dismiss Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual misconduct as just personal flaws. There is a common feature – using power and fame to sexually exploit and abuse women. As a traditionalist and a Christian, I regard that behaviour as has morally disgusting but you consider it to be merely flawed. I expect that you an admirer of Bill Clinton and his flaws too.

  25. @kenny Can we expect that you an admirer of trump and his flaws too?

  26. @Boozy. As a conservative Christian (see above), I am not an admirer of Trump in any way. He is cast from the same mould as the odious Clintons whom he used to fund. Trump is an opportunist liberal who switched to the Republicans but he is not a conservative or traditionalist in any way.

    Your question is another example of “whataboutery” in an attempt to deflect discussion of MLK’s adultery and immoral activities. Ben Braddock also tried that tactic. It’s time that the Me Too movement “woke up” and dealt with the MLK issue. But the hypocrites will probably try to ignore it or blame it on white privilege.

    Btw, give up the booze, it seems to be rotting your brain.

  27. Perhaps few of us recall this, but in the early 90s, Boston University, where King got his Ph.D., investigated charges of plagiarism against King. They found that large portions of his dissertation were plagiarized (about 40%, if memory serves). Despite this, BU refused to revoke King’s degree. I know that had I plagiarized as much of my dissertation as King did his, my university would certainly strip me of my Ph.D.

    People have examined King’s other writings, and have found plagiarism throughout his career.

    Many of us might think, “so what”? Plagiarism is both theft (stealing someone’s words and thoughts without proper attribution) and lying (false representation). So why does it matter? Because serial plagiarism indicates a serious character flaw.

    I know it is tantamount to blasphemy to speak ill of the hallowed martyr, but just as we look at other historical figures with a critical eye, so should we look at King. This is not to deny his courage or accomplishments, but he should be assessed accurately.

  28. Since David Garrow is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, read communist, anything he says is suspect. His comrades are making fools of themselves as we speak in the senate.

    Looking like four more years to me,

    Will

  29. @kenny Why the ad hominem? Merely asking the same question you posed. Christian values? Take care of yourself.

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