Fifty years ago, in 1965, close friends Ethel Carrington Archibald and Shirley Morris Robertson became a part of history.
The women were just 19 years old at the time, relatively recent graduates of Selma High School in Alabama. The Civil Rights Movement was gripping the nation, and Selma would soon become the proverbial center in the heroic fight for voting rights. Both Archibald and Robertson had participated in peaceful protests in the past, so when Martin Luther King, Jr. arrived in Selma that year to organize historic marches to the steps of the state capitol, Archibald and Robertson were once again eager to participate.
Though they knew that marching for equal rights could be dangerous, the two friends joined King and a group of activists in their efforts. That's when Archibald and Robertson found themselves behind bars with one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century.
"When we were marching, we got locked up," Robertson says. "At the same time, King was arrested too, with the rest of us."
"He decided to get arrested," Archibald adds.
Inside the jailhouse, the women say that there was a beautifully powerful moment involving King, a moment they'll never forget.
"We were in the jailhouse and he started praying," Robertson recalls. "The whole jailhouse just started shaking. His skin was like [it had] a halo over it."
A hush fell over the other arrested demonstrators.
"While he was praying, everybody in the jailhouse got quiet," Robertson says. "Everything got so quiet. There was some kind of electric [energy]. Something just went through you."
Touching King's hands was like having your breath taken away, she continues. "It was like, he was special," Robertson says.
"He was 'the person,'" she says. "He was the chosen one... We felt like he was chosen."
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