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New London — "We shall overcome, we shall overcome. Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe we shall overcome someday."
From the mouths of about 150 people, the words of the civil rights anthem filled State Street Monday morning as public officials, clergy, city residents and others gathered to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the 28th annual march from City Hall to Shiloh Baptist Church.
"We are joined here on Martin Luther King Day, and I hope that we have not yet become complacent," the City Council president, the Rev. Wade A. Hyslop, said on the steps of City Hall before leading the march. "Dr. King's dream will only be kept alive if we the people continue to work towards it."
"We'll walk hand in hand, we'll walk hand in hand, we'll walk hand in hand today."
Led by Hyslop, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio and City Councilor Anthony Nolan, the group stretched across both lanes of the road, singing with linked arms. A police cruiser escorted the procession.
"Today, as we gather on what is a nice, warm day to be marching in our streets, we remember the warm heart of a man who spoke to us with courage," Finizio said. "He spoke to us with courage about civil rights, he spoke to us with courage about economic justice."
As the singing marchers made their way up State Street toward Huntington Street, their ranks grew. One man, who seemed surprised to stumble upon the march as he exited the Honey Plus convenience store, joined the group for a few blocks before going his own way.
"We live in a city that is very diverse, but we don't act with diversity in this city. I think it's time for us, really, to start looking at things that happen in and around our city and how we can interact with one another," said Hyslop, who is the pastor of Trinity Missionary Baptist Church.
"Black and white together, black and white together, black and white together today."
The multiracial group that marched through downtown served as affirmation that Martin Luther King Jr. Day is about more than just one man and his legacy, but is indeed a national holiday.
"I want you to understand that this is not just about people of color. I've heard many people say that Martin Luther King Day is a black holiday. Martin Luther King did a lot for every individual who is an American," Hyslop said. "We need to stop thinking that it is about black people on Martin Luther King Day, it is about everyone who is a citizen of the United States of America."
During a stop in front of the Superior Court building on Huntington Street, the march paused as the officials reflected on inequities in the justice system and offered a prayer that King's dream of racial harmony would be realized in the city's neighborhoods and schools.
"Celebrating Martin Luther King's life is not just about a moment of historical trivia," U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said as he marched with the group on Cottage Street. "It is an opportunity to again examine his example, his thoughts and his words, and to connect them directly to what is happening right now in this country."
Upon arriving at Shiloh Baptist Church, the marchers were greeted by the Rev. Benjamin K. Watts, who then led a church service in honor of King's birthday.
As people began to fill the pews, the church's band and choir performed a spirited rendition of the song that began on the steps of City Hall, complete with a driving drum beat, a soaring electric organ and the inspired voices of many.
"We shall overcome, we shall overcome. Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe we shall overcome someday."