There are people who make an imprint on our culture that is so profound that their actions contribute to changing the course of our history. Throughout Black History Month, many prolific and honorable figures are highlighted and talked about. Dr. King, Brother Malcom X, Representative John Lewis, Medgar Evers and A Philip Randolph are all iconic figures that we celebrate. These men were each instrumental in shaping the Civil Rights Movement and so was a young foot soldier from Alabama. His story too, should be bookmarked in the pages of our history books and the name Washington Booker III is one we should all become familiar with.
The day Washington Booker III, saw children being abused by the police, was the day he decided to get involved with the Civil Rights Movement. Despite being a child himself (fourteen) Booker took immediate action. Writer, Cynthia Levinson chronicled Booker and three other Birmingham children in her book, "We've got a Job" that details the 1963 Birmingham Children's March. Levinson explored the Children's March that was encompassed of almost 4,000 Black Children who risked it all in the hopes of ending segregation and having the opportunity to simply be treated as equal human beings in what she described as the "most racially segregated and violent city in America." This was also noted by Nina Simone in her song, "Mississippi Goddam"
Levinson wrote that "They (the children) marched, protested, sang, and prayed their way to jail during the first week of May 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama.Their goal was to end segregation. Many young people suffered attacks by snarling German shepherds and days of being crammed into sweltering jail cells. Some wondered if they would survive. Wash, who had never gone to nonviolence training, threw stones at the police and firemen, along with other observers. He was proud when he was able to save a protester from a pursuing policeman. The following Monday, he skipped school again and headed to the park."
"I didn't know that morning that I was going to...make the decision to go to jail," Wash told Levinson "It "It was part festival, part day of liberation." Wash was arrested with many other students. City Jail and Juvenile Hall were full. Finally he was moved to Jefferson County Jail, where he slept on the concrete floor. Wash was released on Friday, along with hundreds of other children. His mother, he says, "didn't whip me, didn't scold me, which let me know that what I had done was alright."
During the Civil Rights Movement, Booker marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. Ralph Abernathy and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Booker continued being a solider throughout his life. He went on to become a proud Marine who did everything required to defend America during Vietnam. He spoke about his experience on AL.Com. He also used his voice to highlight how the people who keep us most protected often go unnoticed. "We had seen combat and killed folks and watched our friends die," Booker told AL.Com's Barnett Wright. "Nobody wanted to hear about what we had been through. They just wanted us to sit down, be quiet, and go away. Nobody said, 'thank you.' Nobody even acknowledged us. The only thing we've had for 40 years was each other."E Pluribus Unum: out of many, one," he said. "A lot of brothers still need people to say, 'thank you.' It means a lot after 40 years."
Describing a photo of his longtime friend and himself, Dr. Tom Ellison said "He (Booker) as always was comforting and supporting me as we prepared for our Mentor Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. He ALWAYS had my Back and was able to calm me."
Washington Booker III paid the price for us to be free. He risked his life multiple times for justice, freedom and for America to flourish. For that, we are in fact eternally grateful and thankful. Although Mr. Booker passed on last month on January 20th, 2016 his spirit lives forever. The child Foot Soldier who saved lives leaves behind a rich history, passing the torch to the next generation of Civil Rights Activists.
by Abesi Manyando