Eyes downcast and minds somber, about 150 listened to the chimes of church bells Wednesday as they remembered the life, legacy, and death of Martin Luther King Jr.
The Finney Chapel bell rang across Tappan Square 39 times — each strike representing a year of King’s life.
That life was cut short on April 4, 1968, by assassin James Earl Ray. A single shot from the sniper’s rifle killed King, who was standing on his motel balcony in Memphis, Tenn.
The MLK50 Bell Toll, coordinated by the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn., mourned the civil rights leader’s loss as people gathered across the nation.
Plans had called for Oberlineans to walk to King’s namesake park at Vine and Pleasant Streets but bitter temperatures steered the crowd into the First Church meeting room instead.
Oberlin High School history teacher Kurt Russell spoke. setting the tone with a quote from King: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward,” he recited.
Those words were the blueprint King left for today’s civil rights advocates to follow, he said.
People must keep moving to fight racism, sexism, inequality, and “we must get some of these corrupt politicians out of the White House,” he said, his voice raising in intensity.
“We should not enlarge Dr. King more in death than in life,” he said. “We should remember that he was a good man that saw wrong and tried to right it, who saw suffering and tried to kill it, who saw war and tried to prevent it.”
“We must keep moving,” Russell continued. “We must continue to fight. Anytime we see injustice anywhere, we must remember that it is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The Rev. A.G. Miller, a pastor of the Oberlin House of the Lord Fellowship, said the day of King’s assassination is burned into his memory. He can remember sitting in his car and being devastated by the news.
“Hold somebody,” he urged the crowd. “Greet them and hug them.”
Instantly, division seemed to be gone as people laughed, shook hands, and embraced each other.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.