“Let Freedom Ring” 50 years later

By Frank Lewis

August 29, 2013

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

A small but enthusiastic crowd endured the heat of a 90 degree day to hear Portsmouth Mayor David Malone read from the “I have a Dream” speech made by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 50 years ago Wednesday at 3 p.m. in front of the Central Fire Station in Portsmouth.

Local Christian leader Ralph Clay led those present in the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a prayer. Malone read the “Let Freedom Ring” passage from King’s famous speech, then there was complete silence as he rang the bell to mark the occasion.

“I think its just a matter of us as a nation, as a community, remembering this very special occasion that inaugurated freedom for a lot of folks in our community, in our country, and just to remember that and celebrate that, and come together,” Clarence Parker, Pastor of Pleasant Green Baptist Church, said. “Blacks and whites to say that was an important part of our history, and we want to remember it and celebrate it. I think that’s what it’s all about.”

The event kicked off over a week ago in Washington D.C. with speeches and church services, and several local residents attended that event.

“We were at the kickoff,” Yulonda Cave said. “They had a praise and worship service at the opening service. It started Wednesday night, which was the beginning of the seven days of the venue of the March on Washington.”

Cave said she was at Mt. Airy Baptist Church along with Jesse Jackson and former D.C. Mayor Marion Berry.

“It was one of the historical landmarks in D.C. of the African-American churches,” Yulonda Cave said. “There were so many dignitaries. People from different ethnic groups. Everybody there for a different cause and a different reason for their struggle. And there were people there from the Women’s Rights movement - every movement you can think of that is going on across this country.”

Wanda Lee Robinson Cave who also made the trip to Washington, wiped the perspiration from her brow and smiled.

“I’m just glad to be here and be a part of this,” Wanda Cave said.

Wanda said the atmosphere in Washington last week was overwhelming.

“Those people around Washington were so excited about hearing the bells,” Wanda Cave said. “You would have thought they had never heard bells before.”

There was one more special thing she got to do on her trip to Washington and other parts of Virginia.

“We got a chance to go in to the (Arlington National) cemetery for the soldiers,” Wanda said. “And we saw some of the ones we knew like Matt Matthews that was here in Portsmouth. We saw his grave and we were very happy about it.”

Eustace P. “Matt” Matthews, a military veteran, was Coordinator of Multicultural Student Affairs at Shawnee State University prior to his death.

“I just thank God that I was able to be up there and be a part of that,” Wanda said.

Present at Wednesday’s event at the Central Fire Station was Portsmouth Municipal Court Judge Steven Mowery.

“It’s a part of our American history that changed our country, and the day that it changed our country and the 50 years hence,” Mowery said. “The country has changed enormously, and it’s visible to all of us.”

At the same time Wednesday, Ohio Governor John R. Kasich issued a proclamation for Let Freedom Ring Day, in which he said, “The highlight of the 1963 March on Washington was Dr. King’s groundbreaking speech, ‘I Have A Dream’, which he gave while standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial. This speech will forever be recorded in the annals of history as a pivotal contribution to the advancement of civil rights for African Americans in the United States.”

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.