50-mile pilgrimage honoring King’s dream teaches young men about marching toward freedom

Six young men journeyed from Mississippi to Memphis for the 50th anniversary.

50-mile pilgrimage honoring King’s dream teaches young men about marching toward freedom
April 4, 2018, 2:50 PM

Marching 50 miles from Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee, a group of six young men recently took part in a symbolic journey in remembrance of the civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. and the 50th anniversary of his assassination.

"This walk is designed to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his fight for racial justice, economic justice and the sanitation workers," said Jarvis Ward, march's organizer and executive director of the Pearson Foundation, a mentoring program for African-American youth based in Pearl, Mississippi.

Three march participants, linking arms in solidarity and carrying the "March to Memphis" banner, head down Highway 61 in Dundee, Miss., March 31, 2018.
Courtesy Ron Forseth

The group began their march in Dundee, Mississippi, on Saturday, and concluded in Memphis, Tennessee, on Wednesday, at the Civil Rights Museum, formerly the Lorraine Motel, where King was assassinated as he stood on a balcony.

The young men, along with two adult mentors, embarked down Highway 61, a legendary route past the Mississippi Delta where slaves worked cotton plantations along the riverfronts and immersed in cultural landmarks for country and blues music.

Walking in high spirits, wearing matching aqua-blue T-shirts and carrying their "March to Memphis" banner, they were accompanied by police escorts.

The marchers, ranging in age from 14 to 21, were all students from Pearl and Richland, Mississippi.

Ward, born in Memphis, said he was just 4 years old when he heard the news of King's assassination on the radio as he rode in the car with his parents.

Marchers along Highway 61 completed their first few miles, March 31, 2018. They were joined by a police escort provided by the Pearl Police Department, the Mississippi Highway Patrol and municipal and county law enforcement agencies.
Courtesy Ron Forseth

"We will not be walking in anger or protest," he said. "We will be walking in honor and in hope."

Marching 10 miles to 15 miles each day, the young men also attended community meetings at the end of each day and reflected on issues of race in America and what the civil rights movement means to them.

"They are learning what it means to be a man during this journey," Ward said.

Once they arrived in Memphis, they were joined by fellow supporters and Pearson Foundation members and attended a youth rally at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, before reaching their destination at the Civil Rights Museum.

Benjamin Rutledge, an ROTC student at Pearl Junior High school and the only white teen involved in the march, completed 10 pushups at every mile mark. He said the walk was a way of challenging himself "spiritually."

The marchers at the Mississippi-Tennessee State Line on April 2, 2018. They walked 38 miles total. Pictured: Jarvis Ward, JaQuon Ohara, Damonte' Steele, Cameron Allison, Benjamin Rutledge, Davonta Pate, Rapheal Williams and Ron Forseth.
Courtesy Ron Forseth

Ron Forseth, a co-organizer of the march, flew in from Colorado Springs, Colorado, to take part in the 50-mile journey.

"As a white person, it's an amazing opportunity for me to stand with them, my African-American friends, and honor the legacy of King," he said.

Forseth said he hopes this march will be a lifelong journey for these young men and encourages supporters to donate to their foundation.

"I'm real glad to really complete this and to really represent good brotherhood and see all the people come together as one. We still got a little bit of work to do but we have rose a lot to our potential," participant Davonta Pate said.