Jan. 16, 2005 – The soulful voices of Kim and Reggie Harris cut through the early morning rain clouds that threatened to put a damper on festivities honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Emancipation Garden on Monday.
"It's the sound of freedom falling, bring it up to the sky. It's the sound of the old ways falling, you can see it if you try," they sang in unison, holding hands as sunshine surrounded the downtown area.
The Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas brought the Harris couple, a folk-singing husband and wife duo from Pennsylvania, to participate in weekend celebrations honoring King. They were accompanied by fellow singer Rabbi Jonathan Kligler and joined various local clergy members, along with a few local residents and government officials, at Monday's event.
"They are really wonderful," Rabbi Arthur F. Starr said after the performance. "This is the first time we've ever held this event at Emancipation Garden, and the Harris' really did a beautiful job of conveying Dr. King's message."
"We like singing about African-American history," Kim Harris said. "We like to show how songs were used to achieve freedom. The songs that we did today, for example, came from the 1940's – from the time of the freedom rides, where people were traveling together from place to place to campaign for things like liberty and equality."
In honor of King, the Harris' ended their set on Monday by singing an updated version of We Shall Overcome, which advocated that the fight for freedom from oppression should continue "right now."
That message also echoed through speeches given by local clergy members and government officials who attended the event.
"Dr. King gave his life for the cause of human liberty – for the right of individuals to live in peace, to be safe from religious persecution, to not have to exist in fear of the government," said James O'Bryan, St. Thomas administrator. "We have to continue to champion that fight for freedom here in the territory."
O'Bryan said that the Virgin Islands was the first U.S. municipality to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, "And I hope that future generations will continue gather here to pass on his teachings, to celebrate what he struggled so hard to accomplish."
"I never want to forget the dream that's been passed on to us from Dr. King," said Bishop George Murry from the Diocese of St. Thomas. "And we need to make sure that our children don't forget that dream either."
Reverend Jeff Gargano, from St. Thomas Reformed Church, took a different approach. He combined the history of King with the history of the territory. He told the story of Edward Wilmot Blyden, who left St. Thomas to serve at a church in New Jersey.
"He [Blyden] was denied admittance to that church," Gargano said. "And we are gathered here today to make sure that all young people don't have to have their dreams dashed like he did," Gargano said. "And, we are gathered here today to make sure that the dream of Dr. King, who wanted all children to be able to play together in a land free of prejudice, lives on."
Gargano, Murry, and Pastor Rochelle Lewis also offered prayers in honor of King, speaking about keeping his accomplishments alive throughout future generations.
"The fight is not over until all of us are free, and all of us can be judged on an equal basis," Lewis said. "Our ancestors of African descent gave so much so that freedom can reign. We can't give up what they've worked so hard for."
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