JUNEAU — A small group of residents gathered in Alaska’s capital city Wednesday to mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech by ringing bells and singing.
“Let Freedom Ring” bell-ringing ceremonies were planned across the country at 11 a.m. Alaska time Wednesday to commemorate the hour of King’s speech at the 1963 March on Washington. King ended his speech by telling the crowd to “let freedom ring.”
On Wednesday, participants in Juneau shook bear bells, hand bells and cowbells at the appointed time in a courthouse plaza across from the state Capitol. They then joined hands and sang “We Shall Overcome.” The group included the new police chief.
Charmaine Weeks, a housewife, called the 50th anniversary of the speech a momentous occasion. “And I think across the country everyone recognizes that. And it’s important that everyone, whether it’s in the Last Frontier, you know, or in Washington, D.C., that you mark it, however that is,” she said.
Weeks said she believes the nation is closer to realizing the dream that King described. “I wish we were even closer but absolutely I think we’re closer, and hopefully we’re making strides every day to fully bring about his dream. Because it’s all of our dreams that are here today,” she said.
Retiree LaRae Jones said she believes equality of all kinds is extremely important.
“You can’t be the silent majority,” she said. “You have to stand up for what you believe in.”
Jones was a high school student in Missouri when King delivered his speech. She said her senior year was the first year in which the high schools there were integrated.
Asked if she believes the nation is closer to realizing King’s dream, she said it has been getting closer, “but I see a lot of backsliding right now.”
She cited a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down part of the Voting Right Act that determined which states must get Justice Department approval on election changes. The decision effectively did away with the mandate, unless Congress comes up with a new formula.
Jones called that decision “totally wrong,” though added: “Maybe we need a setback to get people’s ire back up.”
Word of the local event spread generally by word of mouth and on Facebook. Lin Davis, who helped organize it, said it was important to her to take part.
As an activist for equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, she said she’s been inspired by the civil rights movement and its leaders.
“There have been a few times in my life, as a lesbian, where I did not feel safe where I was living, and I would kind of calm myself or support myself by just thinking, just think of all the African-American people during the civil rights time and continuing who often faced the same feeling of fear in their own communities and they go forward and they continue to speak out,” she said.
“So I feel just a huge debt to the civil rights movement,” she said.