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Plattsburgh uses music to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

William Verity explains the significance of songs as members of the Select Vocal Ensemble look on
Pat Bradley
William Verity explains the significance of songs as members of the Plattsburgh High School Select Vocal Ensemble look on

Music highlighted the annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in Plattsburgh on Monday.

The Plattsburgh High School Select Vocal Ensemble is among the groups that sing during the annual King Day celebration. The ensemble has won statewide competitions and performed with the group Foreigner during a concert in Burlington, Vermont. The group’s director, William Verity, will soon retire and the MLK Commission engaged him to provide this year’s keynote.

Instead of a typical speech, Verity brought the chorus to perform songs with connections to Dr. King.

“I’m sure we’re all familiar with Dr. King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech which closed the 1963 March on Washington on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial,” said Verity. “What I learned from researching this next song, ‘City Called Heaven’, was that its author was the inspiration for that speech. Gospel great Mahalia Jackson, longtime friend and confidant seated on the dais behind Dr. King, stood during a pause of his speech and yelled: ‘Martin, tell them about the dream!’ At which time Dr. King moved his notes to the side and left us with his most memorable words.”

“I have a dream," states Martin Luther King Jr. "That one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”

Verity knew of some musical connections to the civil rights titan. Others he discovered as he researched Dr. King and the theme of the celebration: “Why We Can’t Wait: Activating our Power For Equity in Justice.”

“Charles Tinley was born to slave parents in 1859,” noted Verity. “By his own determination he learned to read and write at age 17. Among the many facts that I’ve learned connecting the songs we performed today to Dr. King and his legacy I learned also that Mr. Tinley is the author of the song ‘I’ll Overcome Someday’ which as you may have already have guessed is the basis and inspiration for the civil rights anthem We Shall Overcome.”

As speakers commented on King’s life and legacy, Democratic state Assemblyman D. Billy Jones asked if we are fulfilling his dream.

“As a society are we fulfilling his dream?” asked Jones.

A member of the crowd shouts “No.”

“And I say to you we can do more,” continues Jones. “We must do more and we should do more. We need to be the leaders that our society needs right now. We’re not fulfilling King’s dream."

Those attending the celebration recite a community pledge to promote justice, non-violence and compassion.