(April 3, 2015) Inspired by the events in Ferguson, Mo. and a desire to “stand with people who are willing to stand and protest,” Lester Franklin, a former Maryland Coastal Bays coastal steward rushed to fill one of the limited vacancies in a celebration recreating the successful attempt at a Selma-to-Montgomery, Ala., march on its 50th anniversary.
“I got the information on the march close to the deadline, but I was determined to do anything to go,” Franklin said.
There was a written application and essay portion to determine eligibility. The essay was designed to gauge applicants’ reactions to a quote delivered by President Lyndon Johnson to a joint session of Congress five days before the Selma-to-Montgomery march began.
Johnson’s comment they were asked to base their easy on was: “At times, history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Ala. There, long-suffering men and women peacefully protested the denial of their rights as Americans. Many were brutally assaulted. One good man, a man of God, was killed.”
Tensions had been building in the region due to restrictive voting laws where zero or almost zero African American votes were tallied. State police put down an earlier march in an event that would come to be called “Bloody Sunday.”
Franklin was surprised, owing to his late entry, when the approval letter arrived. He began rallying support to cover travel expenses and made his way to Alabama.
“You could feel the energy. Looking back on it now I can see what we did was half of what they did. They didn’t have the park service helping them. They didn’t have dinners, and we had the state police helping us,” he said.
Meeting the people who joined him last week on the six-day, 54-mile trek was the highlight for Franklin, a Salisbury resident.
“I met some of the foot soldiers, some of the people who actually marched but you wouldn’t know their names,” Franklin said. “It was awe-inspiring and amazing. You’d never know who you would run into,”
The takeaways for the 23-year-old are the memories and the lessons learned he hopes to use to inspire future generations as he trains to become an English teacher.
“In another 50 years I hope I’ll be discussing this with my grandchildren and helping them determine what they want to be in life,” he said. “I want to make sure they’re voting and not taking it for granted.”