My Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Washington DC has been magical. A friend (just back from Africa) and I (from Oregon) crossed paths in the nation’s capital. We decided to mark this day by watching the sunrise from the Lincoln Memorial, the site of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
Imagine our surprise to hear young voices as we approached the monument. Students on a field trip had our same idea – to watch the sun rise in this special place on this special day. And they were singing.
The innocence of the moment was transforming. These young people were not a choir, but classmates who love to sing together. There were no news crews in attendance to turn their celebration into a “clip”. All of us who just happened to be there – the joggers, the dog walkers, and the sunrise watchers – were captivated by this happy accident.
After a few songs the students, all from First Christian Schools from many cities, gathered in a circle, arm in arm, and led by an adult leader, read the speech aloud.
While they were reading they welcomed us into their circle. A smart phone with the words to the speech on the screen was being passed, student to student, as each read the next paragraph. The phone came to me and I was so moved by the moment I could not speak. They waited, and I read:
When we allow freedom to ring – when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.”
We walked as a group to Dr. King’s. Memorial. We listened to speakers. We paid our respects at the grand carving of the man who inspired our day. My heart was filled with hope and joy as I watched the students leave for their long trip home.
I was their age when Dr. King became important to me. They brought life back to my memories of The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the iconic images of humanity stretching the length of the reflecting pond, and the off-script speech that still moves me to tears a half a century later. Dr. King won my heart that day. And today it was as though he replied in the voices of young people, “I love you, too”.
First photo by Jeanene Louden, second and third photos by Cheryl Hatch.