By Donna Rhodes
PLYMOUTH — Fifty years ago, on Aug. 28, 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, calling for freedom and justice for all.
In his speech, delivered during the March on Washington in 1963, King encouraged everyone to be peaceful in their endeavors to gain civil rights for people of all races but asked them to never give up until that dream was realized.
Honoring the anniversary of that day, more than 200 people gathered on the Town Common in Plymouth last Wednesday to remember King’s words and reflect on the progress toward civil rights since that time and how much more is yet to be done.
The “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony, the name of which was derived from the closing lines of the speech, got underway at
3 p.m. It began with three minutes of silence when the ringing of bells could be heard echoing all across the valley.
Diane Downing, who helped organize the event, said Rev. Sidney Lovett of the Plymouth Congregational Church played a key role in getting bells to toll at that time. Not only were they were rung from town halls, churches, and colleges around the state, but also from the mountain tops.
“The hiking huts on the Appalachian Mountain Trail all rang bells at 3 p.m., and Holderness residents Scott and Nat King\ also took bells to the summit of Mt. Washington,” Downing said.
After the final bells faded away, Susan Wei, who coordinated the ceremony, thanked everyone for coming out to make the event not only a success, but a new memory in the fight for civil rights. Jonathan Santore sang “Precious Lord” and Selectman Valerie Scarborough read an official proclamation, declaring Aug. 28, 2013 to be “Let Freedom Ring Day.” Scarborough also noted that many of those in attendance were just children in 1963, and that new memories could now be made there on the common in Plymouth as everyone gathered to remember King’s dream.
One who did remember it well, however, was Lovett, who was among the crowds in Washington that day. Lovett spoke briefly about his experience, and said that at the age of 34, King was called on to “speak to the moment” that day, to “speak to the dream.” And that, he said, was just what King did when he stood before more than a quarter of a million people on the National Mall in Washington.
“He got up and told the nation that he has a dream for the future,” Lovett recalled. “We need to go back to that dream and make it happen here in New Hampshire… This is the time to make it a dream fulfilled.”
Wei then led the crowd in the reading of the final third of King’s speech, which contained some words that literally hit home.
“This is the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, ‘My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrims pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.’ And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire…”
The speech continues with his call for freedom to sound from the snowcapped Rockies and other lofty places across the nation, but many in Plymouth were surprised to recall how prominently New Hampshire was mentioned in King’s dream.
Santore then led the crowd in the singing of “We Shall Overcome,” and many joined hands as they their voices sounded in unison across downtown Plymouth.
“This is a time for all of us to own these words,” said Wei as the ceremony concluded.