PITTSFIELD — There were people sitting in the pews and in front of the pews at the First Church of Christ Congregational on East Street. And there were people sitting on bookcases that held hymnals, people sitting on the side of the altar and people packed the balcony above.
There were only supposed to be a total of 900 people in the main hall of the church at Saturday afternoon's Four Freedoms Coalition March and Rally. That number was clearly exceeded. By a bunch. There was also a room on the second floor that provided an audio feed of the event, according to the Rev. James Lumden, pastor of the Congregational Church. That room was also filled.
In all, more than 1,300 people shared a message of tolerance, love and acceptance at the rally. Delivering this message a roster of speakers, including James Roosevelt, the grandson of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and state and local officials and activists.
The march was in support of the four freedoms espoused by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1941 State of the Union address: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear. These freedoms were then embodied by famed artist Norman Rockwell in four paintings for the Saturday Evening Post.
The Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Pittsfield, was the mistress of ceremonies.
"Three minutes and three minutes only!" insisted Sholes-Ross to the dozen speakers sitting on the altar. And for the most part, all the speakers kept to that time limit.
Dennis Powell, president of the Berkshire County chapter of the NAACP, posited that the Four freedoms speech, coupled with Eleanor Roosevelt's Universal Declaration of Human Rights speech to the United Nations years later, "form the foundation of our country."
Everyone, said Powell, regardless of race, ethnicity or creed, should have access to basic human rights: Life, liberty and security of person, as well as the right to medical care and "the right to equal pay for equal work."
All the speakers were succinct and inspiring. U.S. Sen Edward Markey, the second speaker, got the crowd riled up early. Markey railed against elements of the country who "do not share the ideals of the Rev. Martin Luther King and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They traffic in prejudice and hate. That is why you are here today: To recommit to the concept of the Four Freedoms.
"The work we do today," he said, "will resonate long after."
Attorney James Roosevelt of Cambridge, the grandson of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, reiterated the four freedoms of his grandfather's speech.
"When my grandfather gave that speech," he reminded the audience. "the world and the United States were facing authoritarianism in Europe and Asia, economic hardship, racism and isolationism. The challenges we face in 2017 have different specifics, but the same essence."
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, reminded the crowd that the "vision of FDR and the imagery of Norman Rockwell have stood the test of time."
He noted that the event was happening in a Congregational Church, a church in which the word "rejoice" is often used. The size and enthusiasm of Saturday's crowd, he said, was "a cause for rejoicing."
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer led the whole program off. "I believe today' experience will stay with you long after it's over,"
"Our challenges are many," Tyer said. "But my resolve is strengthened. Is yours?"
Reach staff writer Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.