Youngest participant in 1965 Selma march describes the day

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Youngest participant in 1965 Selma march describes the day
Lynda Blackmon Lowery speaks during a pre-Martin Luther King Day appearance at the New York Historical Society, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in New York. Blackmon, who spoke about her memoir "Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom," was the youngest person to join Martin Luther King Jr. for the nonviolent 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Lynda Blackmon Lowery talks with Justin Evans during a pre-Martin Luther King Day appearance at the New York Historical Society, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in New York. Blackmon, who spoke about her memoir "Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom," co-written with Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckle, was the youngest person to join Martin Luther King Jr. for the nonviolent 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Lynda Blackmon Lowery speaks during an appearance at the New York Historical Society, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in New York. At 15, Blackmon was the youngest person to join Martin Luther King Jr. for the nonviolent 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Lynda Blackmon Lowery speaks during an appearance at the New York Historical Society, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in New York. At 15, Blackmon was the youngest person to join Martin Luther King Jr. for the nonviolent 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Lynda Blackmon Lowery answers a question during an appearance at the New York Historical Society, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in New York. At 15, Blackmon was the youngest person to join Martin Luther King Jr. for the nonviolent 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Lynda Blackmon Lowery speaks during an appearance at the New York Historical Society, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in New York. At 15, Blackmon was the youngest person to join Martin Luther King Jr. for the nonviolent 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Dr. Martin Luther King, third from right, marchers across the Alabama River on the first of a five day, 50 mile march to the state capitol at Montgomery, Ala., on March 21, 1965.(AP Photo)
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader, started as a minister the church at right in Montgomery, Ala., years ago, and today led a mass movement of demonstrators on the Alabama state capitol at left. They were protesting discrimination in voting rights against blacks. The rally ended a 54-mile march from Selma, Ala., starting Sunday. (AP Photo/stf)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his demonstrators stream over an Alabama River bridge at the city limits of Selma, Ala., March 10, 1965, during a voter rights march. They were stopped and turned back a short time later. A federal judge had banned the march. (AP Photo/stf)
An armed soldier stands on duty at Selma, Ala., March 21, 1965, as Martin Luther King, Jr. and his civil rights marchers head for Montgomery, the state's capitol, on a five day, 50 mile walk to protest voting laws. The soldiers were called out by President Johnson to protect the marchers. (AP Photo/stf)
Martin Luther King, Jr. and his civil rights marchers head for Montgomery, the state's capitol, March 21, 1965 during a five day, 50 mile walk to protest voting laws. Soldiers were called out by President Johnson to protect the marchers. (AP Photo)
Alabama state troopers charge into a line of demonstrators making an attempt to march to Montgomery from Selma, Ala, March 7, 1965. (AP Photo)
A black woman, Annie Lee Cooper battles with Sheriff Jim Clark, of Dallas County, center, as his hat falls to the ground, after, police said, she struck the sheriff with her fist. Black people lined up morning of Jan.28, 1965 for the second week of registration at the Dallas County Courthouse, where violence erupted shortly after Dr. Martin Luther King arrived at the scene. (AP photo/HC)
State troopers swing billy clubs to break up a civil rights voting march in Selma, Ala., March 7, 1965. (AP Photo)
Civil rights marchers reach the halfway mark in their 50-mile protest walk as they trudge along Route 80 in the rain from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., on March 23, 1965. This is the third day of the voter registration march, which will end with a mass rally near the Alabama state Capitol. (AP Photo)
Civil rights marchers carry flags and play the flute as they approach their goal of Montgomery, Alabama's state Capitol, on March 24, 1965. This is their fourth day in the voter registration protest march. From left to right are, Dick Jackman, New York; Len Chandler, New York, playing the flute; Jim Letherer, Saginaw, Michigan, on crutches; and Louis Marshall, Selma, Alabama. (AP Photo)
Civil rights demonstrators struggle on the ground as state troopers use violence to break up a march in Selma, Ala., on what is known as Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965. The supporters of black voting rights organized a march from Selma to Montgomery to protest the killing of a demonstrator by a state trooper and to improve voter registration for blacks, who are discouraged to register. (AP Photo)
Tear gas fumes fill the air as state troopers, ordered by Gov. George Wallace, break up a demonstration march in Selma, Ala., on what is known as Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965. As several hundred marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge to begin their protest march to Montgomery, state troopers violently assaulted the crowd with clubs and whips. A shocked nation watched the police brutality on television and demanded that Washington intervene and protect voter registration rights for blacks. (AP Photo)
Alabama police troopers on horseback watch as troopers on the ground swing their clubs at demonstrators in Selma, Ala., on what is known as Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965. Supporters of black voting rights organized a march from Selma to Montgomery to protest the killing of a demonstrator by a state trooper and to improve voter registration for blacks, who are discouraged to register. (AP photo)
Hosea Williams, left, who led a march in Selma, Ala., leaves the scene as state troopers break up the demonstration on what is known as Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965. Behind him, at right, John Lewis of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee is put on the ground by a trooper. Lewis suffered a possible skull fracture. Supporters of black voting rights organized a march from Selma to Montgomery to protest the killing of a demonstrator by a state trooper and to improve voter registration for blacks, who are discouraged to register. (AP Photo)
Mayor Joe Smitherman makes a statement to newsmen, banning a march to the courthouse, as protestors gathered in a near by church at Selma, Ala., March.10,1965. Smitherman said tensions were too high to permit the eight block demonstator march. At left, is Wilson Baker, Selma public safety director. (AP Photo)
This is a 1970 photo of Mayor Joe Smitherman posing before the "Selma Welcomes You" sign he erected at the approach to the Pettus bridge in Selma, Ala., sight of violence during the 1965 voter registration drive. (AP Photo)
A driver displaying the confederate flag and painted racial slurs on his volkswagon car is halted along route 80 near Selma, Ala. to allow the marchers to pass on March 3, 1965. The civil rights marchers are on their second day of their walk to the state capitol of Montgomery, Ala., demanding voter registration rights for blacks. (AP Photo)
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. links arms with other civil rights leaders as they begin the march to the state capitol in Montgomery from Selma, Ala. on March 21, 1965. The demonstrators are marching for voter registration rights for blacks. Accompanying Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (fourth from right), are on his left Ralph Bunche, undersecretary of the United Nations, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. They are wearing leis given by a Hawaiian group. (AP Photo)
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and his wife, Coretta Scott King, lead off the final lap to the state capitol at Montgomery, Ala., on March 25, 1965. Thousands of civil rights marchers joined in the walk, which began in Selma, Ala., on March 21, demanding voter registration rights for blacks. Rev. D.F. Reese, of Selma, is at right. (AP Photo)
Public Safety Director Wilson Baker, front center, stands with a line of uniformed city police as they block the way of demonstrators behind them who are attempting to march to the courthouse to demand voter registration rights for blacks in Selma, Ala. on March 13, 1965. Demonstrators on the street tried to push past police lines and when unsuccessful this group, mostly ministers, tried to march off in another direction where they were stopped again. (AP Photo)
The Venetian Gothic Hotel Albert, located in the center of town in Selma, Ala., is shown on Jan. 22, 1965. The hotel, built by slave labor a century ago, opened its doors this week for the first time to blacks. (AP Photo/Bill Hudson)
A federal marshal reads a court order halting a planned voter registration protest march at Selma, Ala., March 9, 1965. The order was read after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- standing behind fellow marcher Andrew Young who had his arms folded -- led about 2,000 persons from a church to a bridge over the Alabama River. The marchers were allowed to continue over the bridge but then were turned back. The other civil rights activists standing with King and Young are not identified. (AP Photo)
Dr. Martin Luther King, fourth from right, waves as marchers stream across the Alabama River on the first of a five day, 50 mile march to the state capitol at Montgomery, Ala., on March 21, 1965. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who as a young civil rights leader was clubbed by police, won House approval on Tuesday May 14, 1996 of a bill designating the march route from Selma, Ala. to Montgomery a national historic trail. (AP Photo)
Martin Luther King Jr., speaks at a Selma, Ala., church in this January 1965 photo. A never-before-published speech given by King in Selma during a 1965 visit is included in "Ripples of Hope," a collection of 110 speeches from the 1780s to the 1990s, on topics from women's suffrage to gay rights. (AP Photo)
Thousands of civil rights supporters gather outside a chapel in Selma, Ala., on March 21, 1965, the start of a five-day, 50-mile march on the Alabama state Capitol at Montgomery. The march will be led by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, who spoke at this church service preceding the march. Supporters of black voting rights will march from Selma to Montgomery to protest the killing of a demonstrator by a state trooper and to improve voter registration for blacks, who are discouraged to register. (AP Photo)
Demonstrators in the 50-mile march on Alabama's state Capitol at Montgomery make their way along Route 80 after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge over Alabama River from Selma, Ala., on March 21, 1965. The five-day march, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is to protest Alabama's voting regulations for blacks. In the background beyond the bridge is the city of Selma. (AP Photo)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., left, shakes hands with voter registration applicants waiting on a long line in Selma, Ala., on Feb. 16, 1965. At left is Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. (AP Photo)
In this 1965 black-and-white photo provided by the Library of Congress showing participants, some carrying American flags, marching in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. (AP Photo/Peter Pettrus, Library of Congress)
Six Catholic nuns lead a short march in Selma, Ala., March 10, 1965. The group was within a hundred feet of a black church when the police blocked their way. (AP Photo)
Coretta Scott King, wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Juanita Abernathy, wife of the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, are interviewed outside the jail at Selma, Ala., Feb. 5, 1965, following an unsuccessful attempt to visit their spouses who were jailed during voter registration demonstrations. At center is the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, also an integration leader. (AP Photo)
Hosea Williams, civil rights activist, tells demonstrators in Selma, Ala., that they will march to the courthouse "come hell or high water," Feb. 13, 1965. (AP Photo)
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NEW YORK (AP) - "Steady, loving confrontation."

Those were the first words Lynda Blackmon Lowery says she heard from the mouth of Martin Luther King, Jr. "And those three words changed my life," said Lowery, who at 15 was the youngest person to join King for the 1965 march from the Alabama cities of Selma to Montgomery, demanding voting rights for African-Americans.

On Sunday in New York, the now 64-year-old mother and grandmother showed the scars she still bears on the back of her head from a brutal beating at the hands of an Alabama state trooper during an earlier march when she was 14. It took 28 stitches to close the gash, and seven more above her right eye.

Lowery spoke at the New-York Historical Society on the eve of Monday's federal holiday marking King's birthday. The audience represented all races and ages, including children who sidled up to her for photos, peppering her with questions like, faced with the brutality, "Why didn't you fight back?"

She explained that they would have been killed if they did - unarmed, confronting "a sea of white men on foot and horseback," armed with rifles, bayonets, billy clubs and fierce dogs, plus tear gas.

"It was terrifying," she said.

A month earlier, activist Jimmie Lee Jackson was beaten and shot by a state trooper. His death inspired three marches from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery.

On Aug. 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.

By the time she was 15, Lowery had been jailed nine times.

But there were moments of comic relief.

Flashing a warm smile, she recounted how when she and her young friends were released from the "sweatbox" - a windowless, sweltering hot cell - police asked them to sign their names for the record.

"We wrote, 'Mickey Mouse, Mini Mouse, Pluto'..." she said, grinning mischievously.

King is at the core of Lowery's memoir, titled "Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom." It was published in early January as Americans packed theaters to watch the film "Selma" about the early civil rights movement. The movie has been nominated for two Oscars, in the categories of best picture and best original song.

Lowery said she went to see it, but had to leave during the scene in which troopers and police attacked protesters at a march dubbed "Bloody Sunday" that preceded the famed, peaceful one to Montgomery on March 21, 1965. During the earlier march, authorities ordered several hundred marchers to stop at a bridge outside Selma. And when they quietly kept walking, the authorities viciously attacked.

"I just couldn't watch it," said Lowery.

After that day, she said she had to fight her fear to join the bigger march "because I was sure they would kill me."

An exhibit highlighting this transformational moment in American history is up through July at the New-York Historical Society.

Lowery, who lives in Selma, said that even today, "you have the ability to change something each day of your life."

Oprah Winfrey, 'Selma' Stars to March in Alabama on Sunday


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