Every movement needs a leader. But every movement needs people who believe in what the movement addresses. It needs people with a belief that results in action.
That is why I’m fascinated with stories of the Civil Rights Movement. Who isn’t stirred by Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech“? Or touched with a bit of sadness when his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” is heard again with the hindsight of knowing it would be his last speech?
He was a great speaker and a great leader. But all leaders have to have followers.
That’s why the story of Lynda Blackmon Lowery caught my imagination recently. She was the youngest person to join King in the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. They were there to demand voting rights for African-Americans. Lowery was not old enough to vote but was willing to do something to help secure that right for when she was old enough. She believed it was worth more than hoping for that day. She believed it was worth taking action to see that hope fulfilled.
But she had marched before the peaceful one. Earlier in the first of the three marches, along with several hundred others, she took steps onto the Edmund Pettus Bridge. She was close to the front—about nineteen rows back—and could see the men on foot and horseback. They were carrying rifles, bayonets, and billy clubs. There were dogs and tear gas.
She was beaten by an Alabama State Trooper in what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” 28 stitches were needed to close a gash on the back of her head. Seven more were needed above her right eye.
Lowery was fourteen during that march. While other fourteen-year-olds are worried about who they will go to the school prom with she was taking part in history. She was jailed nine times by the time she turned fifteen.
It takes courage to lead. But it also takes courage to follow. She had to fight through her fears to join the bigger, peaceful march because she said, “I was sure they would kill me.”
I was five years old when Lowery was facing her fears. I often wonder if—had I been older and in the right place—I would have had the courage to join the others to take part in the “steady, loving confrontation” which finally secured the right to vote for all Americans?
We don’t have to wonder. There are injustices even today. There is poverty. There is homelessness. There is racism in our world. When we see them will we face our fears and take a stand?
Lowery, now 64, believes that even today “You have the ability to change something each day of your life.”
You can be a leader. Or you can be a follower. But either way you will need courage to be the change you want to see.
Question: What is stirred in you when you read of someone’s courageous actions?