Massachusetts man marches through history

Published 1:51 pm Monday, March 5, 2018

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

As the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. draws near, one man is retracing the steps of some of the Civil Rights Movement’s greatest leaders.

Ken Johnson of Massachusetts walked through Chilton County on his way to Birmingham on March 5 in his personal commemoration to King and other civil rights leaders.

He hopes to arrive in Memphis on April 2, two days before the 50th Anniversary of King’s assassination on April 4.

Before setting out, Johnson wrote a proposal to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis for a 400 mile walk, going from Selma to Montgomery, then Montgomery to Birmingham and finally Birmingham to Memphis.

“The idea originated last fall, and I started on Sunday, Feb. 25 from Selma,” Johnson said.

His walk began at Brown Chapel A.M.E, where civil rights leaders met to organize the march to the Capitol.

Johnson said he wanted to complete this walk “to see what it was like for them to do that original 54 miles from Selma to the state Capitol. I wanted to feel what they felt.”

He said the route was hard and took “strength and determination to finish” both then and now. The walk took them four days.

Johnson visited some of the campsites of those original marchers as he made his way to Montgomery.

With each mile, Johnson said he “is discovering how much they gave. They gave a lot.” He said he has also given up a lot to complete this walk, including leaving his job.

Johnson said some civil rights leaders had to move because of losing their job after it became known they were a part of the Civil Rights Movement.

Along the way, Johnson has met people who were connected with the movement. A pastor recounted making sure marchers had food and water.

In Clanton, a man recounted how he had been a part of the National Guard called out by the President to protect the marchers on their way to Montgomery.

“They were happy that things have changed … they see how it is better for Clanton and for greater society as well,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he hopes that his efforts “help move civil rights forward, maybe half a yard, maybe a yard, and to inspire people to pursue things they feel are important to them.”

He also hopes it inspires people to be more physically active for their health.

“Nothing happens from sitting still,” Johnson said. “You have to move.”

He said the increase in physical activity is helping him to “rebalance my life.”

Throughout his travels, numerous people have stopped to talk with him and offer help.

“Alabamians have been so generous to me and so welcoming that it has just moved me so deeply and touched my heart,” Johnson said.

Some have brought him water and supplies. Others have offered him a place to stay for the night.

One woman in Millbrook posted a picture on Facebook that set off a chain reaction of people who knew her stopping to talk with Johnson and offering to help him in his journey, including someone in Clanton.

“People have just been overwhelmingly positive and loving,” Johnson said. “They have been guided by their Christian sense of love and it’s just really, really touching to see.”