Bells in Memphis, nationwide toll 39 times to honor MLK

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Wednesday at 6:01 p.m., the National Civil Rights Museum rang a Clayborn Temple bell 39 times, once for each year of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life.

At 6:03 p.m., Memphis churches rang bells 39 times each, and at 6:05 p.m., churches across the nation followed suit, to symbolize the spread of the news of King's death.

The commemoration of the 50th anniversary of King's assassination began with a reenactment of the iconic "I Am A Man" photo.

The original photograph was taken in 1968 as part of the Memphis Sanitation Strike.

On Wednesday, thousands of people gathered on Beale Street to begin a day of commemoration--honoring King, the sanitation workers, and the Civil Rights Movement.

"It means that we haven't forgotten and we won't forget and we will continue to overcome and continue the struggle in America," Rev. Dr. Bill Adkins of Greater Imani Church said.

The I Am A Man reenactment transitioned into a rally for justice, featuring speakers and musical entertainment. The rally then turned into a march to Mason Temple. The whole event was organized by AFSCME--a union of public employees.

Thousands held hands as they retraced the same steps Dr. King took on his visit to Memphis in 1968.

Reverend Al Sharpton, Senator Bernie Sanders, actor Chris Tucker, and more joined in the commemoration event.

"The message is that we can never forget what Dr. King stood for. And it's not enough to just look back and honor him, we have got to continue the fight that he gave his life for. And that fight was to end racism in America, to end poverty in America, to end militarism in America, and to create a government that worked for people and not just a handful of wealthy individuals," Sanders said.

"On this day we honor Dr. King, we honor and reaffirm the dignity and humanity of all work and we recommit to the struggle because we tell those who want to take us backwards. We are not going backwards, we are going forward," AFSCME treasurer Elissa McBride said.Simultaneously, the National Civil Rights Museum honored King with its own commemoration.

The marchers walked 1.5 miles from Beale Street to Mason Temple. They carried signs and wore shirts that read "I Am 2018."

At Mason Temple, the marchers heard from several speakers including Martin Luther King III and CNN political commentator Angela Rye, who praised King's legacy but reminded the crowd that the word was not complete.

"When you think about what's going on in Memphis right now, there's just not substantial progress 50 years later," Rye said.

Speakers began taking the stage in front of the Lorraine Motel at 9:30 a.m. The events continue through the day culminating with a bell ringing at 6:01 p.m. -- the moment King was shot on the balcony outside room 306.

"We had an awful tragedy here 50 years ago, but we've learned from it and we're going to keep learning from it," Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen said.

Cohen urged others to take action and stand up for the rights they desire.

"Power is taken, not given," Cohen said. "You've got to organize and you've got to stay together and you've got to have a union to get your wages, get your conditions, so stay stay together."

At the National Civil Rights Museum, Rev. Jesse Jackson sat down with WMC Action News 5's Andrew Douglas to talk about what it was like being at the motel when King was assassinated.

Jackson said it is important to remember that King's life was taken from us too soon. There was much he still wanted to accomplish in his life.

Jackson said before King's death many people often rejected his message. He likened it to a trend he's seen in life where the world "rejects the marcher, but embraces the martyr."

The theme of MLK50 is "Where do we go from here?" When asked that question, Jackson said it's all about civic participation.

He said it's vital that African Americans embrace their right to vote. He said currently millions of blacks in the South are not registered to vote. He said it's important to register and then exercise your right to vote.

"That's where we go from here...use our vote, our economics, and our faith," Jackson said.

Ceremonies ended today with a bell tolling across the globe. The bells will start at 6:01 at the Nation Civil Rights Museum, 6:03 in the city of Memphis, 6:05 nationally, and 6:07 internationally. c

Copyright 2018 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.