DUNDEE, Miss. – Wearing aqua-colored T-shirts and hydration backpacks, a group of teenagers on Saturday started with a 50-mile walk from northern Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee, a tribute to slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his assassination.
Accompanied by police cars, support vans and a portable toilet, six middle school, high school and college students, together with two adult mentors, began their march in the country-Dundee. Their journey along Highway 61 will take them along the Mississippi Delta fields and farms, then the casinos of Tunica, before they meet friends and family at the Tennessee-Mississippi line Tuesday.
The decision to have a walk of 50 miles (80 km) was deliberate; the distance equal to one kilometre for each year since King was shot while standing on the balcony of the old Lorraine Motel in Memphis on 4 April 1968. The teenagers, who are of Pearl, and Richland, will discuss issues related to race and civil rights as they make the slow trip to Memphis.
They range in age from 14 to 19. Five are black. The one is white.
“It is a way to let people see that your friendships with different people from different backgrounds, different races, at all levels,” said Damonte Steele, a 15-year-old sophomore at Pearl High School.
Steele is in ROTC at Pearl High School with his 18-year-old friend Benjamin Rutledge, who is white. Rutledge said the King “changed many of our views here in America.”
“I love doing events that challenge me and improve my character, and allow me to meet people,’ Rutledge said.
The group gathered at the post office in Dundee, one of the many small communities located in the flat country along the Mississippi River in the northern part of the state. Their police escorts pushed along as the band trudged along the side of the road known as the Blues Highway.
They plan to walk about 10-15 miles a day, until they reach their destination. The group to take part in the community meetings after they are finished for the day, and spend their nights in hotels, said organizer Jarvis District.
The teens will convene a youth rally Tuesday. On Wednesday, they take part in activities at the National Civil Rights Museum, located on the former site of the Lorraine Motel.
“Our hope is to not only honor all, that Dr. King achieved, but to be a part of the continuation of his work,” said Ward, president of the Pearson Foundation, a community-service organization in the Pearl. “We want to show how the racial justice, economic justice, and racial reconciliation can be advanced in and by the next generation.”
Motorists slowed down Saturday to look at the eight people walk on the highway. A trucker honked his booming horn.
Linda Stanton looked at the group as she and her dog stood outside her trailer, one of the few structures stationed along the highway in the Dundee area. Stanton, 54, said the teenagers’ effort was special.
“Smart kids try to help the future,” she said.