HOPEWELL: Students help civil rights activist get dream honeymoon

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Rev. Gilbert Caldwell and his wife

By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
It has taken 60 years, but the Rev. Gilbert Caldwell and his wife, Grace, will finally get the honeymoon trip they had set out to take at a hotel in the Pocono Mountains.
Thanks to the efforts of some Bear Tavern Elementary School fifth-graders, the owners of the Mount Airy Casino and Resort have arranged for Rev. and Mrs. Caldwell to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary at the hotel.
The Bear Tavern Elementary School students first became acquainted with the retired minister two years ago, when Rev. Caldwell came to speak to them about community service and civil rights on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
When the students learned that Rev. Caldwell, who marched alongside Rev. King in the 1960s during the civil rights movement, had been turned away from the hotel because he and his wife are African-American, they lobbied the current hotel owners to correct the mistake.
The story actually began in November 1957, when Rev. and Mrs. Caldwell set off on the eight-hour drive from North Carolina to the Mount Airy Lodge – the forerunner of the present hotel – in the Pocono Mountains. They had made a reservation to stay at the hotel and that’s where they expected to spend their honeymoon.
That is, until the couple arrived at the Mount Airy Lodge and the hotel staff learned that the Caldwells were African-Americans. Rev. Caldwell was turned away from the hotel, despite the room reservation. The newlyweds spent their honeymoon at a hunting cabin near by.
Rev. Caldwell casually mentioned the story to the Bear Tavern Elementary School students during a recent visit. The students were incensed.
“That got us thinking,” said language arts teacher Christina Virtucio. “What can we do for the Caldwells? So we got to work and wrote some letters. We sent them off to the hotel, and we kept our fingers crossed.”
The letter-writing campaign worked.
Rev. and Mrs. Caldwell did not know about the letter-writing campaign and the students’ efforts to rectify the matter until last week, when the couple visited the school. The students surprised them with the news at a special school-wide assembly.
The couple arrived at the school, accompanied by their son, Dale Caldwell. They entered the gym and sat down on chairs provided for them. As the students filed in, some of them approached Rev. Caldwell to shake his hand. The couple waved to the children.
Once the students were seated, Principal Christopher Turnbull introduced the couple and said the school community wanted to show them how grateful they are for what Rev. Caldwell and his wife have done every day.
With that said, Virtucio pinned a boutonniere on Rev. Caldwell’s jacket lapel and gave his wife a wristlet corsage. Surprised and touched by the gesture, the couple smiled.
Following a short video and a montage of photographs that showed Rev. Caldwell standing should to shoulder with Rev. King, several students read from their letters to the current Mount Airy Casino and Resort.
The Caldwells listened intently. One student wrote that the couple chose the Mount Airy Lodge as a honeymoon destination because “it was the go-to place for any special occasion.”
“When they arrived and were signing in to get a room to stay, something terribly horrible happened. They were rejected a stay because of the color of their skin,” the student wrote.
“People should not have to face something like this. In other words, people should be accepted equally, no matter what race they are,” the student wrote.
Then Turnbull, the school principal, read a letter from Matthew Magda, the vice president of operations at the Mount Airy Casino and Resort. He extended an invitation to the Caldwells to stay at the hotel, free of charge.
Surprised, the couple hugged each other.
An overwhelmed Rev. Caldwell thanked the students and told them that “What you do for me – how wonderful, how magnificent.”
Turnbull, the school principal, thanked Virtucio and her students “for teaching all of us how much we can accomplish when we set a goal, create a vision and work tirelessly until we achieve it.”
“We may fail 9 out of 10 times, but even if just once, we get a result like this, we must persist and we must push the limits of what is possible,” Turnbull said.
“Today is a perfect day to remember what (anthropologist) Margaret Mead once said – ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has,'” Turnbull said.