Pastor Anthony Hodge spent last week re-creating the 54-mile walk for black voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama — just as marchers did 57 years ago — and he ended up on the steps of Alabama’s capitol building March 25 — just as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. did on that date nearly six decades ago.
And just like King, Hodge recited the “Our God is Marching On” speech on those steps.
But, while King made the journey with thousands of marchers — starting at 8,000 and ending up with close to 25,000 — Hodge walked it alone.
He called it a spiritual and emotional journey.
Hodge, the founder of both Finding the Lost Sheep Ministry and Impact Ministry in Winter Garden, began his solo trek Sunday, March 20, and walked 15 miles of U.S. Route 80 that first day. His wife, Sharee, and 3-year-old daughter, Miracle, followed in their car.
“It was quite an experience,” Hodge said. “That walk, it allowed me to understand what the people were going through in order to make that walk and to continue that walk. … They were marching for something important, marching for justice and freedom and equality. And I experienced that as I was walking up those hills and across those valleys. As I was going up those hills, I understood what (King) said.”
Hodge gave that very speech in front of the capitol:
“Last Sunday, more than 8,000 of us started on a mighty walk from Selma, Alabama. We have walked through desolate valleys and across some trying hills. We have walked on meandering highways and rested our bodies on rocky byways. …”
As he spoke, several cell phones captured his speech and shared it on Facebook for friends and family back home.
HILLS AND VALLEYS
Hodge admits what he endured during his walk — some inclement weather and traffic — was nothing compared to what the marchers faced in 1965 as they walked the 54 miles with King. He kept that in mind as he continued to put one foot in front of the other. He logged another 15 miles Monday, 12 Tuesday, seven Wednesday and five Thursday. He walked the remaining two blocks Friday.
He went live on Facebook multiple times each day, updating his followers, reflecting on the moments and sharing King’s words along the way.
He walked despite a tornado warning Tuesday night, and he walked along desolate and busy sections of the highway.
“As I walk, I can see the crowd and the people seeing the crowd, and the crowd is representing something,” Hodge said. “And so as I walk, I am representing something. This is a spiritual journey for me. … And as the people saw the crowd, they knew a change was about to take place.”
Hodge documented many historic sites along the Selma to Montgomery Trail, including the Edmond Pettus Bridge, the site of the Bloody Sunday beatings of civil rights marchers. He stopped at markers and signs along the way and turned to Facebook to share it with his followers. He pointed out each of the four campsites where marchers laid their tired bodies at night.
He felt the aches and pains in his own body, but he pressed on as he remembered those who walked it before him. It was not a smooth or easy walk, Hodge discovered.
“But they did it,” he said in one of his Facebook Live posts. “When you’re walking for a purpose, when you’re walking for freedom, when you’re walking for equality, when you’re walking for justice, nothing will stop you.”
It was pure elation to finally reach those steps, Hodge said.
“It felt great,” he said. “It felt like something had been accomplished.”
In addition to his wife and daughter, Hodge finished the final two blocks accompanied by Lorraine Smith, Sharee’s aunt; Patricia Canterbury, a family friend; Jim Crescitelli, director of the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation; and Julie Butler, representing the First United Methodist Church of Winter Garden; and a reporter from the West Orange Times & Observer.
“One of the main reasons (for walking) is to bring awareness back to America, back to the people about what happened in 1965 — due to the fact that voting rights are being threatened today,” Hodge said. “What the negroes did in 1965, and white people as well, people of good will came together to make this happen. And so my reason for walking was to experience the walking and to understand why they walked.”
The Hodges were in Montgomery for more than a week, and prior to the walk they visited The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, which was built on the site of a former cotton warehouse where men and women performed slave labor in bondage.
The museum was filled with haunting images of shackled black slaves, jars of dirt from dozens of lynching sites and staggering and numbing statistics. The final room was filled with headshots of famous and influential black people throughout history — including Charles R. Drew, for whom the former school in east Winter Garden was named.
Hodge and his family also visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, informally known as the National Lynching Memorial, to commemorate the black victims of lynching in America.
These visits have Hodge even more determined to fight for justice.
He has returned home, but he said he will continue to walk in Winter Garden to fight black-on-black crime and other injustices. He also wants to make the Selma-to-Montgomery pilgrimage an annual event. Next year, he hopes to take more people to experience the journey with him.