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SHS Student Honors Martin Luther King, Jr, At State Capital



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SHS Student Honors Martin Luther King, Jr, At State Capital

By Martha Coville

William Gottschalck, a third grade student at Sandy Hook School, impressed Dennis King at Connecticut’s official commemoration of Dr Martin Luther King’s January 21 birthday celebration.

Mr King is the commission chairperson of Connecticut Martin Luther King, Jr, Holiday Commission, which organizes the annual celebration at the Connecticut State Capital Building. This year’s tribute, officially called the Twenty-Second Annual National Liberty Bell Celebration, included several speakers, and performances by a choir and drum group. The Connecticut governor usually attends, but since Governor M. Jodi Rell was out of state, Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele took her place.

The symbolic highlight of the ceremony is the ringing of the Connecticut State Liberty Bell, a replica of the famous Liberty Bell hanging in Philadelphia. Mr Dennis explained that civil rights activists adopted the Liberty Bell as an icon and symbol during the 1960s.

Mr Dennis said that Sandy Hook student Willian Gottschalck’s outspokenness impressed him.

School children are always selected to ring the Connecticut Liberty Bell. To pick the children, Mr Dennis said, “We asked a commission member to go into the audience, and pick a child and ask question about Dr King.” Children who answer the question correctly earn the privilege of ringing the bell.

William was not chosen to answer a question. But Mr King said that he came up to him and said: “‘I’d like to ring the bell, too. I’ve come a long way, and I’d like to ring the thing.’” Mr King said, “I asked him, ‘Do you know why we’re here?’ and he said, ‘Yes, yes I do. It’s Martin Luther King Day.’’’ Mr King said, “William understood that Dr King meant something special to the people.”

William was one of three young people who rang the bell. His mother, Cynthia Gottschalck, said her son’s participation capped off a powerful ceremony. Although there was a big audience, she said, “There were only a couple of children there,” including a Girl Scout troop. Ms Gottschalck said she brought her sons William and Kenneth, a tenth grader whom she home schools, because “I want Martin Luther King, Jr, Day to mean more to my boys than just a day off. I was impressed by the Girl Scouts, the choir, and by how many guest speakers there were.”

Ms Gottschalck said that the keynote speaker, Dr Suzan Johnson-Cook, brought impressive credentials with her, and spoke about progress and strength. Dr Johnson-Cook is a pastor and an author, as well as a former Bill Clinton Advisory Board member. Ms Gottschalck said, “She said we are strengthened by out struggles. She said that liberation has its own momentum. The question she asked was, ‘Are you a wimp or a warrior?’”

The bell William rang was cast as a replica of the Philadelphia Liberty Bell in 1950, on President Harry Truman’s orders. President Truman had 55 replicas made, one for every US state and territory, as a promotion for a Savings Bond program he had spearheaded.

The Liberty Bell itself was adopted as a symbol by and for the oppressed and voiceless long before President Truman’s publicity campaign. The famous bell was commissioned in Philadelphia in 1745 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Pennsylvania Charter of Liberties. The charter, drafted by William Penn, guaranteed, among other rights, freedom of religion and the right to fair trial.

In honor of the anniversary, the Pennsylvanian Provisional Assembly, the colonial legislature, inscribed a verse connecting the 50th year with liberty. The bell reads, “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land,” from Leviticus, 25:10.

In adopting the Liberty Bell as a symbol, civil rights activists were calling upon a tradition extending as far back as the Old Testament. The “hallowed” 50th year was, under Mosaic law, the jubilee year. Just as the Sabbath day was a day of rest in the seven-day week, in the septennate or seventh year land was to lay fallow; the jubilee year was the celebration of the 50th year after seven Sabbatical cycles. According to custom, Israelite slaves and prisoners were freed in the jubilee year, and stolen or confiscated property was returned to its rightful owners.

In the late 1830s, the abolitionists used the bell to advocate to the emancipation of southern slaves. After the Civil War, the famously cracked bell seemed an appropriate symbol of a nation divided, and it toured the country several times, in part to promote unity among states. In the early 20th Century, women used the bell to demand universal suffrage: they commissioned a copy of the Liberty Bell, and toured the country with it. But on this replica, the clapper was chained down: the bell was voiceless, just as women were, as long as they were denied the right to vote.

Mr King said of this long history, “That’s why the commission used it, too.” On Martin Luther King, Jr, Day, the replicas of the Liberty Bell are rung in all 50 states, to honor Dr King, the work he did, and the work he left behind, as yet undone.

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