Students who took couple's honeymoon story to heart take action

POCONOS, Pa. - At the Mount Airy Resort in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, reverend Gilbert Caldwell and his wife, Grace, arrived recently for their second honeymoon. They were greeted warmly -- a sharp contrast to their first visit, 60 years earlier.

In 1957 they were married in North Carolina, then drove eight hours only to be turned back for being black.

"First they pretended I didn't have a reservation, where I actually brought a copy," Gilbert said. "Then of course they said, 'but if we said yes, our guests would be very unhappy.'"  

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Gilbert and Grace Caldwell

CBS News

They had to stay at a black-owned hunting lodge instead.

"Men with these big guns," Grace said. "Not what we were planning on."

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Gilbert and Grace Caldwell

CBS News

Prodded partly by that experience, Gilbert immersed himself in the civil rights movement, working side by side with Martin Luther King Jr. 

Today, he speaks about the movement, which is how he ended up at Bear Tavern Elementary in Titusville, New Jersey, last year. He told the honeymoon story, as he'd done a hundred times before. But for whatever reason, a group of fifth graders really took it to heart.

"At the end of the story I was like, 'that's just terrible,'" one student said. "It was really heartbreaking," added another. "I feel like this is the worst thing that someone could do to someone."

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Students were touched by the Caldwells' story, and decided to do something about it.

CBS News

Even months after the Caldwells' visit, the kids are still affected, which is why each fifth grader wrote a letter to Mount Airy. One said the Caldwells "made me think about not only standing up for myself, but standing up for others and fixing mistakes that were made in the world."

In closing, the kids requested an all-expense-paid honeymoon redo -- which they got.

"It makes me feel really good inside because we know that even though we're just kids, we made an impact on the world," one student said.

"It was really magnificent to know that kids cared that much," Grace said.

The original Mount Airy was torn down years ago, so the couple went to a new building with new owners, who were so impressed with the kids that they wanted to help make it right. Obviously, this does not make up for decades of racial injustice. But it's a step, and a sign, that we can get there.

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.