The final refrain of Martin Luther King Jr.'s most famous speech will echo around the world as bells from churches, schools and historical monuments "let freedom ring" in celebration of a powerful moment in civil rights history. Most of the commemorations will happen Wednesday at 3 p.m., the hour when King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington 50 years ago. Quoting from the patriotic song, "My Country `tis of Thee," King implored his audience to "let freedom ring" from the "hilltops" and "mountains" of every state, some of which he mentioned as examples in his speech. Organizers say people at more than 300 sites in nearly every state will take part -- ringing bells at churches, schools and historical monuments.
President Barack Obama is among those scheduled to speak at today's commemoration in Washington.
The eldest son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says blacks can rightfully celebrate his father's life and work with pride, but much more must be accomplished. Martin Luther King III, preparing to join ceremonies Wednesday commemorating the 50th anniversary of his father's "I Have a Dream" speech, says the country should confront "staggering unemployment" among black males 18 to 30 years old. He called Barack Obama's election as the first African-American president a major breakthrough for America. But King also told NBC's "Today" show in an interview that he believes young blacks today still "are first judged by their color and then the content of their character." King said his father deftly used the lofty words of the Founding Fathers "to inspire, lift up and bring hope." The Rev. Bernice King opened the celebration of her father's famous "I Have a Dream" speech Wednesday with an interfaith service in Washington. King said that her father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., is often remembered as a freedom fighter for equal rights and human rights. But she said he was most importantly a man of faith. She says he was a prophet and "faith leader" and it was "the spirit of God that infused that movement." Bernice King said the faith community must continue to lead every movement for justice and equality. The opening service Wednesday included Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Sikh, and other Christian faith leaders celebrating King's legacy. Other speakers are the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the National Cathedral; Catholic Archbishop Donald Wuerl (wurl) of Washington; Rabbi Achonfeld of the Rabbinical Assembly; Imam Mohamed Magid of the Islamic Society of North America and others.
District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray has used the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington to call for statehood for the district's 632,000 residents. Gray says Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy is unfulfilled because the residents of the nation's capital are denied full participation in democracy. Gray noted in a brief speech at the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday morning that the district has more residents than two states - Vermont and Wyoming. He also says the city pays $3.5 billion a year in federal taxes but can't spend local tax dollars without approval by Congress. He called on participants in the march to "let freedom ring" from locations around the city.
Civil rights leader Andrew Young says the struggle for black America continues. Young said Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech 50 years ago was really a speech about poverty. When men and women of color, Young said, presented their check at the "bank of justice," it came back marked insufficient funds. He said: "Fifty years later, we're still here trying to cash that bad check." Young, who served as a U.S. congressman, ambassador to the United Nations and two-time mayor of Atlanta, spoke at the 50th anniversary ceremony in Washington. He charmed the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial with civil rights-era songs and promised them in song: "I've got a feeling everything's gonna be all right."