WASHINGTON – Maine Sen. Angus King on Wednesday channeled one of his favorite figures from history – Civil War hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain – to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech.

Speaking as part of Wednesday’s commemoration ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial, Sen. King said the crowd that day 50 years ago started as “small rivulets” but eventually grew into a “mighty river of people down to this place.” Although he did not explicitly say so during his speech, King attended the 1963 rally as a 19-year-old college student.

King said Americans rallied around a “radical idea … new to the world in 1776, tested in 1865, renewed in 1963 and an idea still new and radical today: All men and women are created equal.”

King then quoted from a speech that Chamberlain – a former governor and Brunswick resident, like King – delivered decades after the Battle of Gettysburg, where his 20th Maine Regiment had defeated Confederates in a pivotal confrontation.

Chamberlain had said that “in great deeds something abides” and predicted future generations visiting the Gettysburg battlefield would be enveloped by the collective spirit of those who fought there “and the power of the vision shall pass into their souls.”

“Fifty years ago today this place was a battlefield,” King said. “No shots were fired, no cannons roared, but a battlefield nonetheless — a battlefield of ideas, the ideas that define us as a nation. As it was once said of (Winston) Churchill, Martin Luther King on that day mobilized the English language and marched it into war, and in the process caught the conscience of a nation. And here today on these steps, 50 years on, indeed something abides and the power of the vision has surely passed into our souls.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com