By Alvin Benn
March 12, 2010
A small group of civil rights activists arrived in Montgomery on
Thursday to prepare for a rally today and a Saturday march up Dexter
Avenue to commemorate the end of a historic trek from Selma 45 years ago.
Sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the
54-mile march that began Monday passed through three counties. The
marchers set out following the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee in
Selma, which commemorated "Bloody Sunday" and the successful march to
Montgomery two weeks later.
"We walked all the way, and it didn't rain on us at all," said SCLC
leader Sam Mosteller, during a lunch break at Martin Luther King Jr.
Elementary School on Thursday afternoon. "Matter of fact, the sun
came out yesterday."
Four of the hikers participating in the commemorative march that
takes place every five years are Buddhist monks.
The participants spent the night at a Montgomery motel to rest up
before returning to the elementary school this morning for the next
leg to the City of St. Jude, which hosted the original march in 1965.
A rally is planned for St. Jude tonight before the final leg up
Dexter Avenue to the state Capitol on Saturday morning, where a rally
St. Jude, which is seeking federal approval for establishment of the
third interpretive center along the Selma-to-Montgomery Historic
Trail, hosted a rally in 1965 that drew thousands of marchers and entertainers.
An advisory council has recommended that the interpretive center be
built at Alabama State University. Other sites also have submitted
proposals to host the center.
Mosteller, who is president of the Georgia SCLC chapter, said he
wasn't upset that the crowd for the march was small.
"Jesus only had 12 disciples," he said. "As long as we finish it, we're happy."
Gilberto Perez, one of the Buddhist monks who was taking part in his
first commemorative march, also said the small number of march
participants did not bother him. "The longest walk is from one to we," he said.
A Catholic born in Cuba, Perez grew up in New York and became a
Buddhist in the late 1960s after a personal search "to find out what
happened to my America after the murders."
He referred to the murders of three civil rights activists in
Mississippi in the summer of 1964.
"It was an epiphany for me because I went to church and nothing was
said about it," said Perez, who said he avoided the draft by
proclaiming himself a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War.
The Buddhists, who are members of the Nipponzan Myohoji order
headquartered in Japan, brought along drums and kept up a steady beat
as the marchers left Selma on their long walk to Montgomery.