BELFAST, Maine — They still have a dream.
Amid the ringing of church bells and passionate calls to keep on fighting for social and economic justice, more than 100 people gathered in Belfast on Wednesday night to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the March on Washington.
Denise Goodman of Belfast was there that day as a reporter covering the event for the Dayton (Ohio) Journal Herald. She told the crowd at the First Church that although she was working, she couldn’t help but be swept up by the emotions of that day.
“The March on Washington was an act of faith,” she said. “We became a tiny piece of that huge mass of 250,000 folks. People at the Washington Mall listened to the speeches on transistor radio. I never heard anyone complain. The important thing was being there. There was a kind of sacred quality about that day — I think most people were incredibly moved as they became part of that gigantic throng.”
Another speaker, Margaret Micolichek of the Restorative Justice Project of the Midcoast, spoke about her experiences in 1981 with a group that retraced the steps of the 1961 Freedom Riders. She and other college students met with former Freedom Riders, rode in buses and sang their way across the South. In some places, they could tell that progress towards equality had been made, but in others, it wasn’t a clear arc towards justice.
Though things seemed bleak in some parts of the country, the thoughts of King helped then, as they can now, she told the group.
“King refused to wallow in the valley of despair,” Micolichek said. “Neither can we.”
The Rev. Dr. Duncan Newcomer used strong, poetic words to introduce a focal point of the evening — the presentation of King’s famous speech by a group of people including three teenage boys.
“The March on Washington for jobs and freedom was a groundswell,” he said. “It scared the hell out of a lot of rich white people.”
Newcomer said that in 1963, the nation very much had President Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War on its mind.
“We were fighting it all over again,” he said. “This time, young black folks from the South were leading the way.”
He had important questions for the people assembled in the old New England church.
“Where, as a people, will we be 50 years from now?” Newcomer asked. “Let us listen to the logic of this speech. To the faith of this speech. To the economic message of this speech, to envision a sharing of the wealth of America.”
Miles Martin, 14, of Frankfort lifted up his voice to be part of the group presenting the speech and said afterwards that he had learned something about King and civil rights history.
“I thought it was very moving,” he said.
That word was also on the mind of Norma Rossel of Troy, who said that the evening meant a lot to her. She and others sang songs including “We Shall Overcome” and “This Little Light of Mine” in the warm glow of candles they held in their hands.
“At the end, we were just holding hands and crying and everything else,” she said.