It was at the University of Illinois In 1965 that I became a Quaker and became active in the student movement. It was the spirit of the times, and I was a child of the Sixties. We were impacted by the news, by the outrage against society's evident hypocrisies in all that we were taught. I participated in many anti-war and Civil Rights protests and activities. I was committed to nonviolently changing myself and the world. A major high point of my life was my participation in Selma, Alabama in support of the Civil Rights Movement. I was young then, but I am today still young at heart. The reason that I joined was because I was an immigrant to the US and I was and am a believer of the America Ideals exemplified in the U.S. Declaration of independence: "...that all men are created equal..."
In March, 1965 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sent out a call to all religious leaders and people of goodwill to come to Selma. I was one of them, and I joined the Selma March for Freedom. It was not until March 25th under the protection of 2,000 or more Federal military guards that Dr. King and the marchers reached Montgomery to complete their goal.
During the Selma march, I took up duties wherever it was needed. I volunteered to serve as a transport coordinator in the office and drove and picked up people from Montgomery bus station to Selma. During one of those trips in Montgomery, I was arrested innocently just because I was an outsider and was thrown into the county jail. So, that was my first experience of being in a jail. I was bewildered but wasn't really scared as I remembered. I was placed in a cell with other fellow civil rights workers, and I stayed overnight in jail and was released the next day after getting represented by a civil rights lawyer. It was the first and only time that I had grits for breakfast. I was driving the exact same car that later Viola Liuzzo drove and in which she was shot to death.
I also served as one of the parade marshals that guided and supported the marchers. I distinctly remember that we marched along the side of the column and joined in the spirited singing and sloganeering. On the first day of the march I went ahead of the march to prepare the campsite for the night. I will never forget seeing the sight of the marchers at dusk coming over the crest flying the American flag. It was glorious! One of the most memorable duties as a parade marshal was to protect Dr. Martin Luther King. We linked arms and formed a circle around Dr. Martin Luther King as circumstances dictate, and I was also close to many celebrities that were there. It was the greatest honor of my life to "protect" Dr. King with my life if that was to be. As we
The Selma march along with Ms. Liuzzo's death resulted with The Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark piece of federal legislation in the United States that prohibits racial discrimination in voting with tough conditions for the southern states. Cynically, one can say with some truth, that it took white people being killed to bring forth change. It was one of the most important events in my life...little did I know then that it was considered so important in American history. Dr. King called it "more honorable and more inspiring" than all others in American history, and that President Johnson judged it equal to the battles at Lexington, Concord. The U.S. Congress passed Public Law 114-5, which awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the Foot Soldiers who participated in Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday, and the final Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March.
My other Civil Rights activity in the South was in May 1966 when I went to Greene County, Alabama to serve as a driver to take people to the polls for Thomas Gilmore, a civil rights worker, who ran for Sheriff in the Democrat primary. We were scared, but we had a job to do. We drove voters from their home to the polling station. In the country roads, we drove rented cars like a "bat out of hell!" We were scared that we would be shot by the Whites with guns. Rev. Thomas Gilmore didn't win the first time, but finally succeeded in 1970 and he was the second Black sheriff in Alabama and served for three terms. He was known as "The sheriff without a gun!"
The last time I was in the deep South prior to the 50th Selma reunion in 2015 was in 1968 for Democratic presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy. The "Clean for Gene" campaign held a voter registration drive in Jackson, Mississippi. An interesting side note was that to be "Clean for Gene," I went to a barbershop there, and the barber marveled at my straight black hair. They've never seen anything like it before.