WASHINGTON (AP) — From the nation's capital to a Georgia mountain carved with a Confederate memorial, church bells and hand bells served to answer Dr. Martin Luther King's call from 50 years ago to "let freedom ring" for all people.
That symbolic sound could be heard Wednesday at more than 300 locations in nearly every state to commemorate King's 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech at the moment it was delivered, organizers said.
At the Lincoln Memorial, members of the King family tolled a bell at 3 p.m. that once hung at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., before the church was bombed in 1963.
Across the city, the central bell tower at the National Cathedral played "Lift Every Voice and Sing," ''We Shall Overcome," and other songs at the site where King delivered his last Sunday sermon in 1968 before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.
When the bells started playing, a group of women who gathered for shelter from the rain all stood up, and some hummed along. Carin Ruff, 48, of Washington, said a tear came to her eye as she heard the bells and at the same time listened to President Barack Obama speaking from her smartphone.
Patty Mason, 69, of Bethesda, Md., gazed up at the bell tower and remembered the March on Washington from 1963.
"I remember 50 years ago: the marching, the throngs of people, the speech, the energy," said Mason, who was one of about two dozen people who gathered outside the cathedral, gazing up at the bell tower. "It was amazing, just amazing."
At the same time, commemorations were taking place from New York City to the far reaches of Alaska, where participants rang cow bells and bear bells in Juneau.
The bells were answering King's closing refrain from 1963. As he was wrapping up his speech at the Lincoln Memorial, he quoted from the patriotic song, "My Country 'tis of Thee" and implored his audience to "let freedom ring" from the hilltops and mountains of every state in the nation. He cited some by name.
"When we allow freedom to ring — when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last, free at last, great God almighty, we are free at last," King said in closing.
One of the places King cited was Georgia's Stone Mountain, a granite outcropping east of Atlanta. The park is a memorial to the Confederacy, including a 17,000-square-foot sculpture of three Confederate leaders carved into the mountainside. The Ku Klux Klan held rallies there during the 20th century. Now it's a favorite hiking destination for families, white and black.
On Wednesday, about 30 children and adults hiked up the mountain to join a commemoration. At the summit, participants played a recording of King's speech and sang "We Shall Overcome," a spiritual favored by civil rights marchers. They also rang bells.
One hiker, Gail Scotton Baylor, 58, recalled watching King's speech on a black-and-white TV from her family's home in High Point, N.C. As a child, she watched white children eat ice cream in a parlor, while she and other black children were served at a side door. She remembered segregated water fountains and bathrooms and the dejected look on her father's face when a restaurant refused to serve his family because he was black.