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[Updated] West Hartford Will Commemorate 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Final Speech

[Updated, April 2] Due to a forecast of rain, the April 3 art project and community read has been moved from Blue Back Square’s courtyard to the West Hartford Town Hall Auditorium.

A community read of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’ speech will be held at West Hartford Town Hall on April 3, 2018, and bells will be tolled the next day to mark the anniversary of King’s death.

By Ronni Newton

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his powerful “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis, TN, on April 3, 1968, and the very next day the 39-year-old civil rights leader was assassinated.

A portrait Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on display at West Hartford’s annual celebration on Jan. 19, 2015. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

The Town of West Hartford celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in a program at Town Hall on Jan. 15, and will continue this year’s celebration by commemorating the 50th anniversary of King’s last speech and his tragic death with a community read and an art project on April 3.

On April 4, many local houses of worship will toll their bells 39 times at 7:06 p.m., the time that the 39-year-old King was pronounced dead.

“On this 50th anniversary, we wanted to continue King’s mission of building a beloved community by symbolically carrying on his ideals with the art project and hearing the words of his speech,” Tracey Wilson, event organizer, said in a news release about the event.

The April 3 event will begin at 5 p.m. in West Hartford Town Hall, with a community art project, appropriate for people of all ages, that will be lead by the Connecticut Center for Nonviolence. Attendees will be given a wooden block to decorate, and the blocks will be combined into a “beloved community” that will later be displayed in the Noah Webster House’s space between the West Hartford Library and Goldberg’s Gourmet.

The community read of Dr. King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” will begin at 6 p.m. Speakers representing the town, all 16 public schools, the business community, houses of worship, and other civic organizations will each read a paragraph of the speech aloud. The read is expected to conclude at approximately 7 p.m.

Liz Devine, event organizer, noted, “We wanted every segment of the community represented as we celebrate this remarkable man who chose peace over violence. You will see people as young as age 10 up to age 80, and all races and nationalities in between.”

According to the announcement about the event, while King’s “I’ve Been To the Mountaintop” speech specifically concerns the Memphis Sanitation Strike, it’s also a call for “unity, economic actions, boycotts, and nonviolent protest, while challenging the United States to live up to its ideals. The issue is injustice and the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants.”

The speech contains a plea for peaceful demonstration in lieu of violence as “the only way to guarantee that their demands would be heard and answered.”

The synchronized tolling, 39 times (King’s age), of bells by houses of worship throughout the area will begin at 7:06 p.m. on Wednesday, April 4, the time that King was pronounced dead at a Memphis hospital. The Connecticut Center for Nonviolence’s Martin Luther King Day Planning Committee has asked all local houses of worship to participate in this national effort. “A synchronized toll among the churches and synagogues would send a message that his mission of nonviolence and of building a beloved community still matter to us here in Connecticut and in West Hartford,” the announcement reads.

At the Universalist Church, 433 Fern St. in West Hartford, a potluck dinner and discussion beginning at 5:30 p.m. on April 4, will precede the bell tolling. West Hartford Board of Education member Lorna Thomas-Farquharson will lead the discussion.

Click here for more information about the bell tolling, which is being organized by the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

The Connecticut Center for Nonviolence is also hosting a book fair at Barnes & Noble. Stories for young children will be read at 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m., and purchases will benefit the Center if customers mention the organization’s name at the register.

The West Hartford community will also hold another special event in celebration of Dr. King. On Sunday, May 6, 2018, at the Charter Oak International Academy, a free showing of the documentary “The Children’s March” will be held, followed by a facilitated discussion.

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