KEENE — Diversity and peace were highlighted at Keene State College's "Let Freedom Ring" commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and march on Washington, at Keene State College Wednesday afternoon.
In participating in the 3 p.m. bell ringing, the college joined the world in remembering King's momentous Aug. 28, 1963, speech given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.
"Let Freedom Ring" was organized by the international organization the King Center for Nonviolence.
Before the event could begin at 2 p.m., a summer rain shower drove the observance indoors to the college's library where about 100 people gathered to hear King's "I Have a Dream" speech recited by 19 people of various ages and backgrounds. Afterward singer/songwriter and activist Ben Grosscup of Amherst, Mass., performed songs for the crowd until the 3 p.m. bell ringing.
Event organizer Dottie Morris, Keene State College chief officer of diversity and multiculturalism, said she has heard the speech recited several times, "but I've never heard it as a communal thing. I've always heard it as an individual type of thing.
"It was pretty powerful to hear it by multiple voices. To hear females voices, males voices, children's voices. I think it gave it a different meaning cause we all have to take ownership of the words. As opposed to just passively listening."
It was especially moving to hear children recite parts of the speech, she said.
"I think that was one of the powerful parts of the civil rights movement. It was multi-generational. That's the kind of diversity we don't think about very often, age diversity."
But back in the 1960s civil rights movement, young children were on the frontlines in terms of being the first to attend certain schools, she said.
West African native Balla Sankareh, who now lives in Keene, attended the ceremony with his wife."I've heard the parts and bits of the speech when I was back in my country but I've never had the opportunity to hear the whole speech, but today I took the chance to hear the whole speech," he said. "I thought I should come and see it."
Sankareh said it was a great experience in understanding King's message and the struggle for civil rights.
"I think it's a great way to remember what Dr. King started and what he has set out for us to continue," he said.
Prior to Wednesday the N.H. Council of Churches had put out a call to all churches in the state to participate in the 3 p.m. "Let Freedom Ring" bell ringing, said Dawn Berry, pastor of Brookside Congregational Church in Manchester.
Berry said Wednesday morning the church planned to ring its bells at 3 p.m., and then play some of King's favorite hymns on the church bells till 4 p.m.
During that hour the church would be open to people to come and listen to the bells or read a copy of the speech.
"It's particularly meaningful for people in New Hampshire, because in Martin Luther King's speech he says, 'Let freedom ring from the prodigious hill tops of New Hampshire,'" Berry said.