“Growing up, I really wasn’t around white people, and I didn’t know about discrimination. The mass meetings taught me what I was missing, and I got very involved. I would sometimes just sleep in Brown Chapel after a mass meeting.” -Lewis Marshall
Lewis Marshall was 15 years old when he started attending mass meetings that would announce strategies and demonstrations to register blacks to vote.
On Blood Sunday, March 7th, Marshall was near the front line of the group crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He witness the brutal beatings from the police and sheriff deputies. He managed to escape the scene and find a safe place to hide, which would be in a sheriff’s cruiser. He managed to sneak out the cruiser when the violence calmed down before being discovered.
Fearful of the beating which took place during the march, Marshall was afraid to participate on Tuesday, March 9th. It was the arrival of church leaders, nuns, and activist from up North that was the turning point for the final march to Montgomery.
“I figured that the KKK wouldn’t shoot the white folks,” Marshall says. “So, I found my courage.”
Marshall was determined to march and walked the entire 54 miles to Montgomery. Under a federal court order, there were only supposed to be 300 marchers on the second through fourth days, so that they could be protected by federalized troops. Marshall was not among the 300 chosen by the leadership. But on the first day, he picked up a huge American flag. A friend picked up the other end so it wouldn’t drag on the ground. He refused to lay the flag down when the leadership told him to go back to Selma. So they made him a “marshall” and he carried the flag all 54 miles.
After high school, Marshall was drafted into the service. He enlisted in the Air Force and was trained as an aircraft mechanic. His sole purpose of enlisting in the Air Force was to avoid becoming an Army “grunt” in Vietnam. His luck would just so have it, his first assignment was in Vietnam at Cam Ran Bay from 1967-68. He didn’t see direct action but was impacted by the shelling near his base. Marshall retired to a quiet life in Montgomery, Alabama.