Lexingtonians black and white, young and old, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March For Jobs and Freedom on Wednesday night, building on the excitement of a huge celebration in Washington earlier in the day.
While the event at Courthouse Square in downtown Lexington couldn't match the size and drama of the remembrance in Washington, the sense of history and promise in local memories of the march and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech carried its own significance.
The Rev. Norman Fischer, parish priest at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, energized the Lexington crowd by leading the chant "I Am The Dream."
Anthony Wright, Stan Shelby, Jonathan Lott and Halden Hunt, all seventh-graders from Lexington's Carter G. Woodson Academy who were born decades after the march and King's speech, read vivid essays that they wrote celebrating both.
Lexington's Unity Chorus joined members of the Reel World String Band to lead the crowd in singing Woke Up This Morning with My Mind Stayed on Freedom, a classic song from the civil rights era.
Mayor Jim Gray told those present to work for better jobs, a better education and a safer city for all residents. Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes urged the crowd to keep King's dream alive and build on it.
Wednesday night's observance was presented jointly by the Lexington chapter of the NAACP and the Central Kentucky Council for Peace & Justice.
Particularly significant was the fact that the two groups had never worked together before to put on an event, said Peace & Justice board member Richard Mitchell.
"I'm expecting between 200 and 300 people, and it looks like we might make it," Mitchell said. "It's just kind of out of control. I really believe it's going to come off, and it's going to be wonderful."
The event started at 6:30 p.m. Mike McNeal arrived at Courthouse Square early, carrying a large color portrait of King that he displayed proudly throughout the evening.
"The thing it always reminds me of is the word "peace," McNeal said. "That's his (King's) word. I like that word."
Among the program participants was Shayla Johnson, 34. She was born in 1978 — 15 years after the 1963 march that became a key event in U.S. history. But Johnson said the march half a century ago still looms large for her generation and for those who are younger.
"The fervor of so many people coming together behind a great cause, coming together across racial lines and religious lines, it still just resonates," she said. "We want to try and get some of that energy back, and come together again so that we can move forward and make things better.
"I think that energy is still around; it's still here. We just have to find it."