Hundreds gathered on the lawn of South Boston’s Castle Island Park tonight to watch black and white footage of Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago today projected on the granite wall of Fort Independence.
“Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation,” King says, his words echoing into the foggy night and out across Boston harbor.
The screening, followed by the crowd marching with lanterns around Pleasure Bay, was organized by Michael Dowling and many other folks affiliated with his Medicine Wheel Productions in South Boston to commemorate the anniversary of King giving that landmark speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the Aug. 28, 1963, “March on Washington.”
The night’s motto was “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can”—a statement King used beginning in the 1950s.
“I have a dream 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 says in the film.
The location of “Beacon to the Dream,” as organizers called tonight’s event, was symbolic. South Boston is still notorious for its white Irish-American residents’ violent opposition to a 1974 federal court ruling requiring children be bused to schools outside their neighborhood and African-American students to be bussed in from Roxbury to desegregate the city’s schools.
“I didn’t think it was really going to be pulled off. But seeing how many people are here, I’m like, ‘Are you serious?’ says Shane Hampton of Dorchester, who helped with lantern march preparations for about a year. “You know the Southie thing, that whole racist thing, I didn’t think that many people would be out here. But that’s what it’s all about, love and support.”
“It’s a cool thing. It feels good to give back to the community,” says Kevin Hurd of Dorchester, who also helped develop the event. “South Boston has changed from 40 years ago. I wouldn’t have been able to walk around here. People who still want to be racist, we’re pushing that back in their faces. Blacks, Latinos, whites, we’re all good. We’re all one people.”
Dowling says he was happy to see many South Boston residents participating tonight—some of whom told him, “This is the true Southie. This is who we are.”
“Busing was so traumatic for the whole city,” says Dowling, who is best known for organizing the “Medicine Wheel” temporary shrine to AIDS victims at the Boston Center for the Arts each December since 1992. Southie, he adds, has also suffered from drug addictions and teen suicide. Not to mention organized crime. “People don’t have opportunities to heal. Art creates a process.”
“So let freedom right,” King continues in the film.
“It had some truth,” says Dorchester resident Tiny Watson of King’s speech. “There’s still some racism, not much, but some.”
This article was originally published on August 29, 2013.
This program aired on August 29, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.