Archive for January, 2012

Dad’s March to Montgomery With MLK

The other day a friend asked me if I felt a connection to Martin Luther King, Jr. My only response was that in 1965, five years before I was born, my dad, a Lutheran Minister, marched from Selma to Montgomery along with King and roughly 24,999 others. Here is the story in his own words. (The excellent documentary footage in the second and third YouTube clips was from a film directed by Stefan Sharff, a now-deceased Columbia University film scholar.)

“It all came about after watching a Sunday night TV show of the police troops on horseback trampling the marchers as they were leaving Selma and crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It was a horrendous site. Several of us pastors, from a variety of denominations in the Chicago area, spontaneously felt a strong need to go to Selma and support the non-violent protest march for voter registration and other Civil Rights issues that MLK was leading from Selma to Montgomery. We organized by phone and there were about 12 to 15 of us who assembled on Monday to take the train from Chicago to Birmingham. We were met and briefed in Birmingham by Joe Ellwinger, a Lutheran Pastor, and several others people who were helping to organize the march participants.

On the third day we were bused from Birmingham to join the march. The concern that the march remain nonviolent was repeatedly voiced because of fear of a mass slaughter. Armed National Guard and other troops lined the march route, prepared to dispel any semblance of violence, and helicopters flew continuously overhead. There was significant taunting along the way by people hoping to incite violence. The marchers  continued peacefully, amidst the taunting, singing the songs that had characterized the Civil Rights movement. We continued into Montgomery and assembled at a large field at St Jude surrounded by tanks, armed vehicles, and troops. The attempts to instill violence as we approached St Jude were always met with peaceful passive response. Once the marchers (about 25,000 or more) assembled, the speakers, including MLK, a host of other civil rights leaders, and celebrities, addressed the crowd.

From my own experience during the march the most taunting attempts by people trying to incite violence was by throwing things at us or spitting in our faces. Once the gathering at St Jude had finished, the crowds dispersed and the participants slowly began their return to wherever they had come from.

Upon returning to Chicago I received a significant amount of hate mail and threats. (A photo of our group had appeared in the Chicago Tribune as we departed for Selma.) One particular threat I recall was when I was making a house call in the neighborhood of our church and the woman who answered the door said:

“Oh, aren’t you one of them who was in that picture? It’s a good thing my husband isn’t home because he would kill you.”

I received several other pieces of mail, many with copies of the newspaper photo, indicating that I should be shot just like James Reeb. (That was a reference to a pastor who was shot). As I remember the responses continued for a month or more but then slowly diminished.

As for my personal fear I recall being very fearful throughout the march hoping that the marchers in such numbers could remain nonviolent. We stood no chance if violence erupted. Also as we assembled in mass at St Jude realizing that someone with significant hatred and prejudice could wipe out so many people at one time. It was also disconcerting as I returned to Chicago wondering how or when someone might like to express their feelings in a violent manner.”