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Washington County man hopes celebration of MLK's dream will bring reforms for today

Samuel Key and more than a dozen other local residents made the trip to Washington, D.C., on Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of one the most pivotal political rallies in U.S. history.

August 27, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • Samuel Key, current president of the Washington County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and more than a dozen other local residents made the trip to Washington, D.C., on Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of one the most pivotal political rallies in U.S. history.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

A native of North Carolina, Samuel Key had just turned 20 years old, when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963, in Washington, D.C.

“That speech resonated, and it really energized people, and let them know there’s hope,” Key said. “That’s what we’re building on now.”

Although he didn’t get to travel to the nation’s capital that day to take part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Key and more than a dozen other local residents made the trip to Washington, D.C., on Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of one the most pivotal political rallies in U.S. history.

Several events have been held in Washington this week for the anniversary, including today’s Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action rally, during which President Barack Obama and former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are scheduled to speak on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

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The current president of the Washington County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Key said he and others from the local chapter — including a handful of youngsters, as well as several people from the local United Automotive Workers union — left for Washington around 6 a.m. Saturday.

They arrived just before 8 a.m. to find a city buzzing with activity, he said.

Some hopped on the Metro, while others walked the short distance to the Lincoln Memorial, where thousands of people gathered to listen to speakers and take part in a short march to the Martin Luther King Memorial.

Key, now 70, said he lost his group for a short time during their travels, but it gave him time to stop and talk to numerous people who had come for the gathering, including several who attended the march in 1963 and heard King speak.

One man told Key that he had hitchhiked to Washington from Alabama to be there in 1963, while another said he made the trek from New York.

The man from New York, who later moved to Charlotte, N.C., told Key that he was satisfied just to sit on a nearby bench and watch the sea of people descending on the capital for the occasion.

“I was at the first one, and now I’m at this one,” Key said the man told him, calling it a “milestone” in his life to be there again.

Although it wouldn’t be realized until the years that followed, the march and King’s speech proved to be a landmark event in the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1960s.

The rally is widely credited as a major factor leading to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“Young folk have got to understand. They got to know where they’ve been, where we need to go, and how to get there,” Key said.

He said the nation has made a lot of progress since 1963, but with that advancement, there also are new hurdles.

“We are being economically sanctioned by our own people,” Key said. “And there’s a big roadblock that’s coming in” for all people.

Key said more people need to vote and have their votes count. The NAACP is promoting increased voter registration, aiming for 1.5 million more people to register by 2016.

The nation also is seeing a sharp increase in the number of people becoming incarcerated in today’s society, said Key, who noted that education could help reverse that trend.

“They’re building more jails than they’re building schools,” he said. “Through all of this, and to get out of the record that they’re in, is education ... that’s the key to success.”

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