Governor Fallin joins Secretary Jackson, Rep. Pittman to ‘let freedom ring’

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 17-Jan-2011

Celebrating the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday today (Monday, January 17), Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin braved a typically strong Sooner wind on an overcast and cold morning to lead the annual ringing of the bell of freedom at the History Center in northeast Oklahoma City.

Fallin joined state Reps. Anastasia Pittman and Richard Morrissette in a brief ceremony in the comfort of the center to start the observance. All three public officials spoke in glowing terms about the civil rights leader who was assassinated 43 years ago. Leading the indoor portion of the program was Roosevelt Milton, president emeritus at the Oklahoma City chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Rabbi Barry Cohen of Temple B’nai Israel offered an invocation before Oscar Jackson, director of the Office of Personnel Management and a member of Fallin’s cabinet, introduced the chief executive. She made brief remarks in Dr. King’s honor, as did both of the state representatives.

Rep. Pittman, an African-American and a Democrat, said she was proud to honor Fallin, a Republican, as the state’s first female governor. Pittman also said she was “proud to be in the Legislature working with Gov Fallin to make the state better.” Pittman told the scores of children in attendance at the ceremony there “is still more work to be done before we can be truly free, and have better lives, better jobs, and religious freedom.”

Rep. Morrissette, also an Oklahoma City Democrat, noted he has worked for decades with the civil rights movement, and promised continued vigilance for the causes represented by various organizations at the event.

At conclusion of the indoor program, several hundred people, including the governor, moved briskly to the east side of the history center campus for the bell ringing.

A large crowd of children gathered around the chief executive in front of the bell. She asked them, “Why do we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?” They children shouted back various responses, including “Because he made us free,” and “he was for peace.”

Fallin responded the answers were correct, telling them that Americans honor his memory by trying to live up to his ideals. The governor and a few children then grasped a rope tied to the bell, pulling on it to ring  it repeatedly while   shouting over and over: “Let freedom ring!”

Fallin lingered to have her photo taken with many attendees, including Pittman and members of her family, and Anthony Douglas, the state chairman of the Oklahoma NAACP.

Shortly after the bell ringing ceremony at the History Center, Governor Fallin sent this statement to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations:

“On the 25th anniversary of the first Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we remember and honor Dr. King and his message of equality, dignity and respect for all mankind. We strive to live by that creed, because only by treating each other with respect and dignity can we work together to move our state and our nation forward.”

The history center event was one of many during Oklahoma City’s celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this weekend.

Not long after the bell ringing, at noon, an interfaith prayer service was held in St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, where longtime civil rights leader Anita Arnold served as master of ceremonies. Arnold was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission last month.”Buffalo Soldier” Civil War reenactors presented the colors at St. Paul’s, followed by Nashyla Dillard’s singing of the “Star Spangled Banner.”

The invocation at St. Paul’s came from Imam Arif Abdullah. Marilyn Luper Hildreth brought greetings, while Andre Carbin delivered King’s historic “I have a dream” speech. Keynote speaker was Judge David Lewis.

Also over the weekend was a service at St. John Baptist Church, the MLK Cross Culture program at Temple B’nai Israel, a breakfast program at the Reed Center in Midwest City, a Job Fair, a Catholic Mass at the parish of Corpus Christi, MLK Day opening ceremonies at the Freedom Center, and a silent march to the History Center.

While conditions were cold all morning, the sun came out soon after 1 p.m., warming things up considerably before the 2 p.m. step-off for the annual MLK day parade. Pittman and Morrissette participated there, as did state Sen. Connie Johnson and state Rep. Mike Shelton, both Eastside Oklahoma City Democrats.

Dozens of civic groups, advocacy organizations and faith communities marched through downtown Oklahoma City, along with marching bands and Junior ROTC units from highs schools throughout the area, including students from these high schools: Northwest Classen, Star Spencer, Millwood, Northeast, Southeast, P.C. West, and Frederick A. Douglass.

Elementary or middle schools participating including Marcus Garvey, Rogers, and scouting units from KIPP Charter Preparatory.