Remembering Portsmouth's Rev. Arthur Hilson, Instrumental In Establishing MLK Day In N.H.

Jan 21, 2019

Rev. Arthur Hilson, who pushed for establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a permanent holiday in New Hampshire.
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One of the state’s leading civil rights voices died over the weekend, just days before the holiday he helped enshrine.

Reverend Arthur Hilson, a retired Navy veteran, served as the longtime pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in Portsmouth. 

He was a leading advocate during a years-long effort to establish Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a permanent holiday in New Hampshire, which became the final state to acknowledge King with a holiday in 2000.

“I think in some ways there was not a real need to support that because there were those who felt it’s a black thing, so the black folk want it, and there are not enough of them here so we don’t need to worry about it,” Hilson told NHPR in 2006.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who as governor signed the permanent holiday designation into law, described Hilson as a “beacon of wisdom and grace.” In a statement, Shaheen said that Hilson “leaves behind a tremendous legacy, particularly through his leadership on civil rights, for which we owe him a debt of gratitude.”

In addition to his advocacy work for the holiday, Hilson was also involved in the creation of the African Burying Ground public park and cemetery in Portsmouth. He was also a teacher in the Portsmouth school system, and frequent speaker at events around the state.

“He was one of the most kind, gentle people I’ve ever met. And one of my favorite human beings,” said Portsmouth Mayor Jack Blalock.

“You’d say ‘hi’ to Reverend Hilson, ‘how are you,’ and his response was always, ‘Too blessed to complain.’”

Hilson died on Saturday at the age of 82 from cancer. A funeral service will be held next Saturday at 1pm at Middle Street Baptist Church in Portsmouth.