Walk Through Not-So-Distant Civil Rights History

by James Leonard | Staff Writer

SCRANTON — The youngest person to walk with Martin Luther King Jr. shared her experiences with students, faculty and the Scranton community.

Civil Rights activist and author Lynda Blackmon Lowry participated in the Selma Marches in Alabama throughout March of 1965.

“If you let something own you, it would take you away from you,” Lowry said. “My grandmother always said to embrace fear. If we let fear rule our lives, we can never live up to our full potential.”

Lowry spoke to the University community Wednesday, sharing her experiences via Zoom. The event was sponsored by the University’s Cultural Center as well as the Black Student Union on campus.

The program, “Turning on 15 on the Road to Freedom: My story of the 1965 of the Selma Voting Rights March,” gave students, faculty and community members insight into the struggles of young men and women during the Civil Rights Movement.

Members of the University’s Black Student Union Tiannah Adams and Ravenne Cooper introduced the speaker to the audience by giving a quick summary of her impact on the fight for racial equality.

“Lowry learned of racial discrimination at a young age,” Cooper said. “Racial discrimination ultimately led to the early death of her mother when she was unable to be admitted to a nearby white-only hospital, and died when [Lowry] was only a girl.”

The first march from Selma to Montgomery took place on March 7, 1965. It was the first of several attempted on the same route. None were successful until March 17 of the same year, when a state judge gave the group special protections to pass through without resistance from authorities.

“We lined up with over 700 hundred people across the Alabama river from Selma to Montgomery Alabama.,” Lowry said. “The walk was very solemn. I had an eerie feeling because it was so quiet. When we reached the apex of the bridge we could see lines and lines of mounted state troopers.”

Lowry said she saw guards with bayonet-fixed rifles during the March 21 marches. She mentioned how horrified she was upon seeing them stare her down as a child.

“I ran back to our group screaming don’t let them kill me!” Lowry said.

Before the mayor provided the group protection, authorities of Selma and Montgomery would continue to call the march an illegal assembly. Lowry explained how authorities often used brute force to scare away the protestors.

“I was in the kneeling position when someone grabbed my collar and tried to jerk me backward and took both of my lapels and jerked me backward,” Lowry said. “His hand came by my mouth so I bit him. I was able to get up and start running through a cloud of tear gas. This deputy was running behind me and hitting me. I was 15 years old.”

Lowry said after that march, she knelt down and cried.

“I had to cry out that fear and hatred before it consumed me,” Lowry said.

The group eventually made it to the capital. The United States then passed the Voting Rights Act on Aug. 7, 1965. It gave everyone of age the right to vote by dismantling voter discrimination that had been previously practiced in some areas of the country.

“After that I went back to school everything was normal, but I always thought that what me and the others did was something that changed a nation,” Lowry said.

Lowry learned of the Civil Rights Movement at a young age, hearing Martin Luther King Jr. speak on several occasions when she was a young girl.

“I heard Martin Luther King speak in Selma, Alabama when I was 13 and vowed to never let anyone lose their mother at such a young age. As a 13-year-old I heard his speech. He said you can get anyone to do anything with loving confrontation. I distinctly heard him say you can get anyone can do anything with steady, loving confrontation,” Lowry said.

In response to Lowry’s talk, attendee Jahzara D. E. Mayes thanked the speaker for her sacrifice and example of courage.

“You are an example for all of us. So very grateful for the paths you opened for all of us.,” Mayes said.

Cooper also had some remarks about the talk, following its conclusion.

“As a young Black woman, I can say she emboldened me and other women on the Zoom. First, it was really crazy to be talking to someone from that era,” Cooper said. “I think history books make it seem like it was so far away, but she was still young and telling us her story.”

Cooper said that it was truly an eye opening experience for her and she hopes that she can tell others about what she learned from the event.

“I would love for the University to bring more people like [Lowry] to the school, especially women of color,” Cooper said. “It really gives me strength and motivation to change the world. The turnout was great but I wish so many more people got to experience her story like we did.”