LITTLE ROCK — School groups from about 10 districts across the state traveled to the state Capitol on Wednesday for a 50th-anniversary re-creation of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s "I Have a Dream Speech."
People stood in sweltering heat, some holding umbrellas for shade, to listen to Kaylen Smith, 12, of Little Rock give an animated recitation of King’s speech from the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington, in which the civil rights leader said he had a dream that one day his children would live "in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
Other speakers at the event organized by the state Martin Luther King Jr. Commission included Gov. Mike Beebe, who rang a bell to commemorate the "Let freedom ring" line from King’s speech, and several current and former state legislators. Republican gubernatorial candidates Asa Hutchinson and Curtis Coleman attended but did not address the crowd.
State Division of Youth Services Director Tracy Steele, a former state legislator and Martin Luther King Jr. Commission Chairman, said there was a time in history when blacks would not have been allowed to gather on the Capitol steps. State Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, said there is still much work to do.
"We have not made it to the mountain top," Walker said. "We’re nowhere close. We have, in fact, retreated quite too far."
DuShun Scarbrough, the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission’s current chairman, said later the commission staged the event because it "wanted an opportunity to impart knowledge into youth — and what better way than to have the youth re-enact what really took place 50 years ago?"
The event also featured a performance of "Amazing Grace" by Kendal Collins, 11, of Little Rock. Collins was introduced as Mahalia Jackson, who sang at the March on Washington just before King spoke.
Other child performers included Erin Knight, 11, of North Little Rock, who sang "We Shall Overcome," and Mia Parker, 14, of North Little Rock and Reagan Ford, 16, of Maumelle, who introduced "King" and others.