August 31, 2013
“We have a way to go before we see full equality in educational opportunity and economic status.”
200 adults, children help commemorate speech on summit BELLS,
the 90-minute program of speeches, prayer and music leading up to the bell ceremony. The Stone Mountain ceremony and bell-ringing was replicated in Washington where Obama, the nation’s first AfricanAmerican president, spoke from the same spot where King delivered his speech five decades earlier. In a speech punctuated with “because they marched,” the president said that laws changed, legislatures changed and that even the White House changed, but that income inequality, troubled inner cities and stagnant wages amid growing corporate profits demonstrate that challenges remain. “Because they kept marching, America changed,” he said. “Because they marched, a civil rights law was passed. Because they marched, a voting rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open.” Obama said that King’s generation dared to dream differently, to imagine something better. “I am convinced that same imagination, the same hunger of purpose stirs in this generation,” he said. “We might not face the same dangers of 1963, but the fierce urgency of now remains. We may never duplicate the swelling crowds and dazzling procession of that day so long ago – no one can match King’s brilliance – but the same flame that lit the heart of all who are willing to take a first step for justice, I know that flame remains.” After the speech, King’s surviving children – Martin Luther III, Bernice and Dexter King – his granddaughter, 5-year-old Yolanda Renee King, and other family members rang the bell that once hung in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., where four little girls were killed during a racially
Above, President Barack Obama looks on as the King family rings a Freedom Bell. At left Stone Mountain Mayor Patricia Wheeler and state Sen. Emanuel Jones ring bell.
Ken Watts / CrossRoadsNews
motivated bombing in 1963. When state Sen. Emanuel Jones and Stone Mountain Mayor Patricia Wheeler rang a Freedom Bell outside the visitor’s center on top of the mountain at 3 p.m., they were accompanied by a group of small children ringing hand bells. The bells rang at the exact hour that
the late civil rights leader began his speech five decades ago. Students Lunye’ Powers, Diamond Ellis and Cornaya Byrd from the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy in Atlanta divided King’s speech into three parts and read it aloud. Speaking to the crowd, DeKalb interim CEO Lee May said the marchers of 50 years
ago knocked down barriers. “They fought and raised their voices for those who didn’t have a voice of their own,” he said. “They said no more drinking from separate water fountains, no more eating at separate lunch counters, or being forced to use separate restrooms.” But May said inequality lingers in too many key areas of life. “We have a way to go before we see full equality in educational opportunity and economic status,” he said. Wheeler, a lifelong metro Atlanta resident, said she had the privilege of witnessing the blessings that flowed from the sacrifices of King and others in the civil rights movement. “In downtown Stone Mountain Village, we have a huge Freedom Bell, a gift from Chuck Burris, the first African-American mayor of Stone Mountain,” she said. “The bell is a daily reminder of how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.” The program featured a color guard of DeKalb Police and State Patrol officers; songs by soloist Ricky Victrum, an alumnus of the Atlanta Boy Choir; and interfaith prayers from Bennie Wilkerson of Camp Creek Church of Christ, Audrey Galex of Congregation Bet Haverim, Dan Phillips of Shambhala Buddhist Center, Rahgu V. Granhige of Hindu Temple of Atlanta, and Gogi Basi from the Sikh Community of Atlanta. Before the program, about 50 people took part in a “Freedom March” up a trail to the mountain’s summit. As he made it up the mountain with his wife and two daughters, David Soleil of Decatur loved being greeted with the sound of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech over the loudspeaker. “It was a truly inspirational moment,” he said, choking back emotion.