The cigar legacy of Martin Luther King

January 13, 2023

When is Martin Luther King Day?

Martin Luther King Day occurs every third Monday in January, which lands around his birthday (January 15). A national holiday in the US, this January 16, 2023, will see many Americans honor the life and achievements of the influential civil rights leader.

For his tireless work to bring equality to the States, many might not know King also had ties to the tobacco industry and was a heavy smoker. We’ll delve deeper into the man behind one of the most renowned speeches in history and look into how Americans celebrate King’s legacy on Martin Luther King Day.

Who was Martin Luther King?

Martin Luther King was an African-American baptist minister who rose to the forefront of the civil rights movement due to the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. King was a visionary leader who fought to eliminate segregation and counter prejudice in the US through non-violent tactics, peaceful protests, and civil disobedience.

In his relatively short lifetime, King used the power of words to profoundly influence the national consciousness around inequality, racism, and segregation. He delivered around 2,500 speeches, with his most famous being the ‘I Have a Dream speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington.

More than 200,000 demonstrators participated in the protest march, but King’s spirited call for equality and freedom proved most pivotal. It helped spawn the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, dismantling racial discrimination and segregation barriers in the US.

Despite being imprisoned nearly 30 times protesting for equality, King showed astonishing bravery by never backing down in his stand against racism. He stood up in the face of opposition and oppression, fearless in condemning racial segregation and white supremacy in front of white people. At the age of 35, King was awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize — at the time, he was the youngest man to receive the prestigious award.

Four years later, King was fatally shot while standing on the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. His untimely death sparked riots in more than 100 cities across the country, with some of the rage and devastation spilling into days.

Today, he remains an enduring symbol of the civil rights movement and a global icon who changed history for millions of African-American people.

The cigar legacy of Martin Luther King

How is Martin Luther King Day celebrated?

Martin Luther King Day allows the country to show a deep appreciation of his heroic work and for children to learn about his importance to the civil rights movement. Parades are held nationwide, with local communities coming together to march peacefully.

Key political figures and civil rights leaders pay their respects to one of the greatest public speakers by paying tribute to a towering figure who courageously championed justice.

However, the underlying motive behind Martin Luther King Day is to positively impact someone else’s life for one day, rather than using it as a “day off.” Americans are encouraged to perform good deeds for their community — this could be shopping for an elderly neighbor or keeping the neighborhood clean and green by organizing a garbage pick-up.

Families will even hold their own activities and events to keep King’s dream alive. This could involve sitting down with their little ones to watch one of his impassioned speeches or crafting something inspiring using King’s wisdom that can help fuel positive change and conversations.

Many Civil Rights museums are also worth a visit on Martin Luther King Day, offering special discounts or even free admission. Museums are fantastic learning spaces for adults and children to educate themselves about King’s accomplishments through valuable artifacts and interactive exhibits.

Martin Luther King and the tobacco industry

While there is no doubt King helped people see the world in a different light, he also enjoyed lighting up a cigarette of his own. His smoking, however, was often discreet because of the stigma attached to his role as a Christian leader. He also didn’t want kids that looked up to him to find out about his hidden habit in case they followed suit.

As a teenager, King spent the summers of 1944 and 1947 picking tobacco in Simsbury, Connecticut. Cigar maker Cullman Brothers Tobacco owned the shade tobacco farm and it gave King his first glimpse into life outside of the segregated South. Opening his eyes to racial quality, he wrote about the better treatment black people received in letters to his mother. For example, eating at one of the finest restaurants in Hartford, or sitting alongside the town’s white residents at the movies.

While Simsbury’s shade tobacco farms have long since closed, Joseph F Cullman 3rd was the longstanding head of the giant tobacco company, Philip Morris. Phillip Morris became the largest cigarette exporter, with Cullman’s crowning glory growing Marlboro to the world’s best-selling cigar brand in 1972. Cullman III’s brother is Edgar Cullman, Sr, who served as chairman and CEO of the General Cigar Company. He was also the owner of some of the most highly regarded brands in the industry. These include:

  • Garcia y Vega – Dominican machine-made cigars that combine aged aromatic tobacco with natural leaf wrappers.
  • Macanudo – Heralding from Jamaica before moving their operations to the Dominican Republic, Macanudo is known for its creamy profiles and offers a perfect starting point for cigar novices.
  • Partagas – One of the oldest cigar brands, Don Jaime Partagas opened the doors of his famous factory in Havana in 1845. With rich Cuban roots and a portfolio of timeless smokes, it’s little wonder Partagas is a globally beloved cigar brand.
  • Ramon Allones – Founded in 1837, Ramon Allones pioneered the cigar box packaging we know today, with its decorative interior and colorful designs.
  • Temple Hall – Another brand with a firm hand in history, Temple Hall is the very first cigar brand produced in Jamaica. Perfect for puffing after a long day, their profiles typically include mellow hits of cashews, cedar, and hazelnut.

As cigars began to decline in consumption, the General Cigar Company changed its name in 1976 to Culbro Corporation (not to be confused with Cullman Brothers Tobacco).

We hope you use Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an opportunity to give to others in any way you can. If you feel the gift of a world-class cigar is appropriate, then check out our selection of premium cigar brands at


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What's trending now...