All across the nation, bells will ring at mid-afternoon today.
The bells will have an important purpose — commemorating the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest speeches in American history.
On Aug. 28, 2963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech, presented during the March on Washington, D.C., for equal rights for minority citizens. In many cities and communities across the United States, bell will toll at 3 p.m., the time when King ended his remarks with the words “let freedom ring.”
The peals will be a symbolic gesture recognizing the words of a master orator, one whose leadership and drive personified the battle for civil rights. Few people have influenced a nation as much as King has influenced America, with the words he spoke in Washington on that day seen as pivotal to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Fifty years later, we live in a different America. And much of what has changed has been because of the work of King and the thousands of Americans who challenged unfairness and demanded equality.
There are still divisions in America, have no doubt about that. And there are still those who judge each other by the color of their skin.
But the laws and practices that were designed to suppress minority participation in society and government have been changed. When King’s speech is commemorated in the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, speaking at that event will be President Barack Obama, America’s first African-American president. In 1963, the possibility of an African-American president likely seemed as remote as landing an astronaut on Mars.
America has not yet attained King’s dream of a time when people are judged on the content of their character with no consideration of skin color, but progress has been made. Young people today can’t fathom a time when an African American couldn’t drink from the same fountain, use the same public restroom or eat at the same restaurant table as a white American, and that is a positive change. It’s important to remember history so that it is not repeated, but it also is gratifying to know that such notions are foreign to those who will lead the nation, states and local communities in coming years.
King’s dream may not be fully realized even in our lifetime, but it is a goal America should strive to achieve. The ring of freedom is a sound all Americans should be able to share.
— The Albany Herald Editorial Board