By John Toole
---- — PELHAM — Pelham is among more than a dozen New Hampshire communities participating Wednesday in a 50th anniversary commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
But while plans are progressing for Pelham Public Library’s group reading of the famous civil rights address, it’s unclear just how many church bells will toll in tribute.
Staff said Crossroads Church and New England Pentecostal Church lack bells, while the bells at St. Patrick’s Church are out of service.
But First Congregational Church will toll its bells above the village center.
“We absolutely are,” the church’s pastor, the Rev. William Ferguson said.
The board of deacons wholeheartedly approved the bell ringing, he said.
Ferguson said “I Have a Dream” was an iconic speech for a generation of Americans in the 1960s and has become a part of the nation’s culture.
The reading at the library is slated for 2:30 p.m.
Library director Corinne Chronopoulos said she is trying to organize area churches to ring their bells at 3 p.m.
Whether that happens or not, Chronopoulos said the library event will include a bell-ringing of its own.
Pelham is the only community in the Interstate 93 corridor of Southern New Hampshire participating in the “Let Freedom Ring” commemoration.
Chronopoulos wanted the community involved.
“This is a monumental anniversary,” she said.
The reading will take place in the library’s reading room.
Chronopoulos expects to have four teams of readers.
“I think it takes about 15 to 20 minutes,” she said. “We’re hoping to take our time.”
During the reading, participants will pause to ring bells, she said.
King’s speech, delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, is regarded not only as one of the great moments in the civil rights movement, but among the great speeches in American history.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” King said on Aug. 28, 1963.
King even invoked the image of New Hampshire’s White Mountains in his speech.
“And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire,” he said.
Professors Stephen Lucas and Martin Medhurst, after consulting 137 experts in rhetoric, ranked “I Have A Dream” at number one in a list of the 100 top political speeches of the 20th century.
The speech ranked ahead of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address (No. 2), Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural address (No. 3), and Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor address (No. 4).