About 150 people marched through downtown Springfield on Sunday in a re-enactment of the historic 1965 Selma to Montgomery civil rights march.
The event, organized by the Sangamon County 4-H Club, started at Chamberlain Park and headed west on Clear Lake Avenue and Jefferson Street. People carried signs reading “Segregation is morally wrong” and “All men are created equal” and chanted “liberty, justice.”
Erica Austin, 4-H youth development educator, pointed out that April 4 will mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. She added the 4-H members wanted to do something to honor King’s memory and decided on the re-enactment of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, which ended on March 25, 1965.
“(King) was about love, he was about justice, and he was about harmony. We should be about that with each other,” Austin said.
Austin added it’s important for the younger generation to remember King’s lessons.
“If you don’t know your history, you don’t know where you are going. (The kids) understand the power of this march and why it was needed. The Selma march was for voting rights. … At that time, they weren’t allowed to vote. Dr. King had a dream: We’re Americans, too. Our hands built this country so we should be allowed to vote.”
Sunday’s march ended at the Old State Capitol with a program that included a re-enactment of King’s speech. Darion Miller, a 14-year-old freshman at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School a member of the ninth through 12th grade male scholastic 4-H club, portrayed King.
“I hope I can portray him to the best of my ability and that it will inspire them to look back and dig deeper — to look at our past so we can learn more about it and grow from it,” Miller said.
Miller added it’s important to remember the civil rights activists who have worked so hard for equality.
“The people who came before us fought so we could live better lives than they did,” Miller said. “We should continue so the generations to come have the same opportunities and live better than what we did.”
Sunday’s march was open to the general public. Austin said it was designed to bring the entire community together.
One of the people who marched was Marcia Wherry of Springfield. She carried a sign that read, in part, “3/1965. I marched in Springfield for Selma, voting rights, and for civil rights.”
Wherry said she was a senior at MacMurray College in 1965, and a group of students and faculty from her school and Illinois College traveled from Jacksonville to Springfield to march for civil rights.
“I believe it was the first time city officials experienced a march of approximately 100 college students and faculty. It was the same week as Selma,” Wherry said. “… We were concerned about voting rights, civil rights and equal rights. We’re still concerned about those same topics.”
Wherry said there was a lot more enthusiasm at Sunday’s event.
“(The 1965 march) was really a silent march. The men dressed in suits and the women were in dresses or skirts and blazers and trench coats. We were not sure what the experience was going to be like, but it turned out to be a very safe and positive experience,” Wherry said.
At the end of Sunday’s event, organizers called Wherry up to the podium and recognized her for her earlier march.
Contact John Reynolds: email@example.com, 788-1524, twitter.com/JohnReynoldsSJR.