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August 29, 2013

She marched with King

HAVERHILL — They had seen it many times before on their TV sets, yet their eyes were still glued to the projection screen in Mayor James Fiorentini’s office yesterday.

It was like the women were watching Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech for the first time. The “I Have a Dream” speech, which happened 50 years ago yesterday, called for an end to racism.

With the mayor sitting next to them, the women watched and listened, their eyes filling with tears.

One of the women who gathered in Fiorentini’s office for the 50th anniversary of King’s speech talked about the trip she made to Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963. She had decided to join the hundreds of thousands of people who gathered on the National Mall for the historic “March on Washington.”

“I was excited, but I was scared, too, as I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Irene Chretien of Haverhill said about her participation in the march, which has been called the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of the United States.

Chretien, 82, of Haverhill was working on the production line at Western Electric at the time. When she heard a group of people was heading to Washington, she decided to go as well.

“I’d never seen that many people in my life,” she said.

Fiorentini invited residents who took part in the march or wanted to talk about their experiences growing up at that time in America’s history to his office yesterday in celebration of the anniversary. The mayor presented Chretien with an “Outstanding Citizen Award” in recognition of her participation in the historic march and for her support of the rights of all Americans.

Fiorentini told the eight women in attendance yesterday that he regretted not going to Washington for that historic day. He said he was 16 at the time and was in high school. His parents did not want him to attend the march.

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