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Atlanta Celebrates King's Dream


This weekend, the city of Atlanta kicked off its own celebration to mark the anniversary. People gathered at the Martin Luther King National Historic Site and at the Center for Nonviolence. This is the beginning of more than a week of national events to commemorate King's "I Have a Dream," speech.

As NPR's Kathy Lohr reports, the festivities started in the city where King was born.

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: Many recalled the history of the movement and the role that King played but the youngest daughter of the civil rights leader, Bernice King, said recent events proved that her father's vision has not be realized.

BERNICE KING: There's something that we did not get 50 years ago that is rearing its ugly head again today.

LOHR: Bernice King raised the case of Trayvon Martin, the black 17-year-old who was killed in Sanford, Florida last year. Martin was walking home from a convenience store in the rain when neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman followed Martin and shot him after a struggle. Zimmerman was tried for the murder and acquitted. Bernice King says the teen was profiled because he was black.

KING: And so we cannot ever think because of the sacrifices that were achieved 50 years ago, that we won and we can rest. The enemy is not resting.

LOHR: King evoked her father's call to action, made to a crowd of 250,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th, 1963.


LOHR: Bernice King was just three years old when her father delivered his famous, "I have a dream," speech. Many here talk about the importance of bringing King's message to a younger generation, and this weekend in Atlanta there was a special focus on children.

MAMA KOKUSE: Say hey, rabbit.

CHILDREN: Hey, rabbit.

KOKUSE: Say how you doing today. Both of you. One, two, three, go.

CHILDREN: How you doing today?

LOHR: Storyteller Donna Kokumo Buie, known as Mama KoKuse, led children through an African folktale where animals say they will use force and their might to get rid of a monster in a rabbit's house. In the end, a small frog solves the problem without violence. Mama KoKuse says this story demonstrates many of the lessons King taught.

KOKUSE: Everyone say non-violence.

CHILDREN: Non-violence.

KOKUSE: When you use your words.

CHILDREN: When you use your words.

KOKUSE: When you use your mind.

CHILDREN: When you use your mind.

KOKUSE: When you use your words and you use your mind, you're choosing what? What's that word? Peace. Everyone say peace.


LOHR: Stanley Sellers' two children participated in the event. He says kids learn through this type of storytelling and he's worried that some younger people are not paying attention to lessons from the past.

STANLEY SELLERS: There has to be mindset to let people know that the struggle is real and this struggle continues, you know. We have a black president, but there are still great disparities in this country, that we're constantly talking about race. Race is an issue. We have to coexist, and we have to find a way to do it.

LOHR: As the day passed, the lightness that enveloped Atlanta turned into a steady rain. A small crowd gathered outside historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached. Teresa Peeples Hopkins and her 17-year-old daughter just moved here from North Carolina.

TERESA PEEPLES HOPKINS: It's a really big feeling. You know, just to be here and to be in the spirit of things that made such a difference in the history of this country.

LOHR: And Georgia Congressman John Lewis, who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington told those who gathered, it's time to march on Washington again for jobs and freedom. And Lewis says, for those who can't make it to the nation's capital...

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN LEWIS: Read a book, sing a song, visit a school, do something. Move your feet, clap your hands, but do something. Go. We're not there yet.

LOHR: Congressman Lewis and many in Atlanta say this is a time to recognize an historic moment, but also a time to recommit to King's dream. Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.


MARTIN: Last week on our program, we aired a piece that focused on Martin Luther King III, the son of the slain civil rights leader. In that piece, he implied the Six Flags theme park near Atlanta was once segregated. Here's what he said.

MARTIN LUTHER KING III: We must have passed by Six Flags a hundred times and many of those times we were told, well, we're not able to go now but Daddy's working on it, and one day we will be able to go.

MARTIN: We wanted to note that Six Flags in Georgia, as the park Six Flags over Georgia, as the park is officially known, was never segregated. Atlanta's Funtown theme park was, however. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. helped to desegregate that park.


MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Whether covering the manhunt and eventual capture of Eric Robert Rudolph in the mountains of North Carolina, the remnants of the Oklahoma City federal building with its twisted metal frame and shattered glass, flood-ravaged Midwestern communities, or the terrorist bombings across the country, including the blast that exploded in Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta, correspondent Kathy Lohr has been at the heart of stories all across the nation.

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