Dexter King, Martin Luther King III and Bernice King are joined by their families as they lay a wreath at their parents' crypt. Wednesday evening. ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Bell tolls 39 times to mark the loss of Martin Luther King Jr.

Thirty-nine bells. 

A bell for each year of a life cut short. 

Each toll a reminder of Auburn Avenue. Morehouse. Montgomery. Birmingham. Selma. Oslo. Memphis. 

Against the backdrop of a their parents’ crypt sitting on an island in the middle of a freshly restored crystal blue reflecting pool, members of Martin Luther King Jr.’s family, including his children — Bernice, Dexter and Martin III — rang a large silver bell in honor of their father’s life and legacy. 

The siblings, along with the wives of Martin III and Dexter and King’s only granddaughter, then placed a wreath on the crypt. 

A woman sang, part of a King sermon. “If I can help somebody, my living will not be in vain.”

An hour earlier, Bernice King had stepped into her father’s pulpit Wednesday evening and — a preacher like her father, using his cadences and speech patterns — delivered the last lines of King’s famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. 

Holding forth at the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, Bernice King reminded the crowd of the qualities of the man they had come to honor.

“My father literally fought his entire life to ensure the inclusion of all people because he understood that we were intertwined and connected together in humanity,” King said. “He understood that we must respect the dignity and worth of all people. He fought for justice, equality and peace.” 

The observances of the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination drew crowds to downtown Atlanta from the world over. And many came from King’s hometown. 

“I didn’t know he had passed until I got off the bus from work and when I got to the house, my mom was crying and the whole neighborhood was in an uproar,” Carolyn Gay, 69, said.

At the time she lived off Northside Drive in Atlanta.

She and her granddaughter had toured the historic Ebenezer church earlier in the day, its sanctuary filled with tourists and King’s “Mountaintop” sermon, blaring from the loudspeakers. 

Gay said she couldn’t listen and had to leave.

“I couldn’t take it,” she said. “It was too hard.”

The extended King family prepares to ring a bell 39 times in remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr. at his crypt Wednesday evening in Atlanta. ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

On, WSB-TV and WSB Radio

The March 21 documentary ‘The Last Days of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’ on Channel 2 kicked off a countdown of remembrance across the combined platforms of Channel 2, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB Radio.

The three Atlanta news sources will release comprehensive multi-platform content through April 9, the anniversary of King’s funeral.

On April 4, the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, the three properties are devoting extensive live coverage to the memorials in Atlanta, Memphis and around the country.

The project will present a living timeline in real time as it occurred on that day in 1968, right down to the time the fatal shot was fired that ended his life an hour later.

The coverage will culminate on April 9 with coverage of the special processional in Atlanta marking the path of Dr. King’s funeral, which was watched by the world.

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