In 1963, when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was ready to give up on Birmingham after failing to launch an effective civil rights movement in the Alabama city, young people stepped forward to take the lead.
They marched in hundreds to the jail in Birmingham to support the imprisoned King and were met with fire hoses and dogs.
King's teachings and the image of the protesters being abused helped propel the civil rights movement, according to Taylor Branch, a Baltimore resident and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian.
"Think of the children," Branch said yesterday to a crowd gathered at Baltimore's Lovely Lane United Methodist Church to honor King. "They are what melted the resistance."
The daylong celebration, held at the 113-year-old church in the 2200 block of St. Paul St., included dance and music, a discussion of community action and a keynote address by Branch.
Bill Miller, executive director of Greater Homewood Community Corp., which organized the celebration, said the crowd of more than 400 was three times what he had expected. More food had to be ordered, and Branch's talk was moved from the fellowship hall to the sanctuary.
Greater Homewood Community Corp. was one of 137 organizations to receive a national grant from the Corporation for National Service to hold projects to honor the King holiday.
Miller said the organization spent 2 1/2 months preparing for the celebration.
The group coordinated with six elementary and middle schools -- Dallas F. Nicholas Sr., Abbottston, Barclay, Guilford, Margaret Brent and Mildred Monroe -- and Yellow Transportation to bring pupils to the celebration on their day off.
Branch has written two books on the civil rights movement -- "Parting the Waters" and "Pillar of Fire" -- and expects to finish the trilogy with "Canaan's Edge" in about three years.
Yesterday, he told the crowd that youths of today need to be respected and taught about the struggle of the generations that preceded them.
"Freedom has been built in this country," Branch said. "We need to pass this along to the children."
The message was not lost on Gladys Harris, who brought her 6-year-old stepdaughter, Ameryst Terry, to the celebration.
"He brought out some good points," said Harris, a 43-year-old Baltimorean. "I don't think people knew [the youth] played such a significant role in the movement."
After Branch's talk, about 25 veteran civil rights activists, students and young adults met with Derrick Chase, a poet and storyteller, to talk about King's legacy and how it applies today.
In another room, Davon Barbour, a member of the Kan Kouran West African Dance Company in Washington, held a West African dance and culture workshop for children.
"We wanted to make sure we had something that would appeal to children and older people as well as to blacks and whites," Miller said.