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Celebrate American heritage at parks

Sunday will be the 97th birthday of the National Park Service. To celebrate, admission to all national parks will be free so that everyone can join in the festivities taking place coast-to-coast.

At Natchez National Historical Park, this will include free house tours of the Melrose mansion each hour from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission to the grounds and slave cabin exhibits at Melrose are always free, as are the self-guided tours of the William Johnson House. For more information call 601-446-5790 or go to www.nps.gov/natc.

Our national parks preserve the broad expanse of our nation’s heritage and celebrate its most basic values — like freedom. That’s why it is significant that this year our NPS Founder’s Day falls in the same week as the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

In addition to numerous national parks celebrating the themes of the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and other armed conflicts over the past two centuries that helped protect American freedoms, the National Park Service preserves both the Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia and the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

To commemorate the anniversary of Dr. King’s famous speech celebrating freedom, at 2 p.m . on Wednesday, Aug. 28, a half-century to the minute after he delivered his historic address, bell-ringing ceremonies involving hundreds of thousands of people will be conducted across America and around the world.

Local groups are encouraged to present commemorative programs on the 28th, which bring people together across cultural and political lines to celebrate our common humanity. The 2 p.m. (Central) bell ringing may be before, during or after other programming. The bell tone should be deep to lend solemnity to the commemoration, and bells should ring for no longer than 15 seconds.

More information on these commemorations can be found at http://officialmlkdream50.com.

From the “I Have a Dream Speech”:

“…So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California! But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi…”

This week, celebrate your American heritage by taking part in a bit of American history, learn about the diversity of Natchez culture at Melrose and the William Johnson House, drive up the historic route of the Natchez Trace Parkway, or walk the solemn hills of the Vicksburg battlefield.

Come out and enjoy one of your nearby National Parks.


Kathleen Jenkins is Superintendent of Natchez National Historical Park.