ARUN RATH, HOST:
Lynda Blackmon Lowery was the youngest person to join Dr. Martin Luther King on the historic march from Selma, Alabama. She tells the story in a new book for young adults, "Turning 15 On The Road To Freedom." When Lynda was growing up, she used to watch a TV show called "Sergeant Preston Of The Yukon."
LYNDA BLACKMON LOWERY: And Sergeant Preston had this dog named King, a German Shepherd, that saved everything and everybody in 20 to 25 minutes on Saturday morning.
RATH: So when Lynda heard her grandmother was going to see King at Tabernacle Baptist Church, Lynda was excited to see the dog.
LOWERY: Needless to say, we were some disappointed children. But when Reverend King started to speak, the whole church got quiet. Reverend King was talking about voting rights and how our parents was going to get the right to vote. But we would have to to do it nonviolently. He had a standing ovation.
RATH: And can you talk about your own involvement with the protests because you were 14 at that time?
LOWERY: Well, I was turning 14 at that time, yes. I like to tell people by the age of 15, I had been jailed nine times. The first time we actually went to jail, I was kind of scared, but we had each other's back. What we were going to do with each other's backs I don't know because those big, you know, policeman had guns and so forth, so - but we were there for each other.
RATH: And you had your own experience with police brutality - Bloody Sunday - that was Sunday March 7, 1965, the first attempted march from Selma to Montgomery. Can you tell us what happened to you on Bloody Sunday?
LOWERY: On Bloody Sunday, I was very near - very near the front. I was, like, in the 19th line from the front. When we got to the crest of the bridge - the top of the bridge - and we saw all these men in blue. That was the Alabama State Troopers. We saw the Sheriff Jim Clark and his deputies, and we saw his posse. They were on horseback. I really wasn't afraid that day, until we got down there all the way to the state troopers, and they said we were an illegal assembly and we had to disperse.
And I heard this pop, pop sound. Later, I found out it was tear gas. And I remember I couldn't breathe, and I was scared. I was on my knees, and somebody grabbed the back of my collar - coat - and started pulling me backwards. And I guess I was resisting because they grabbed the front of my lapel, and I bit the hand that was on the front of the lapel. And I heard that horrible N-word. And I felt him hit me twice. I ended up with seven stitches over my right eye - I still have that scar - and 28 stitches in the back of my head. And I still have a knot in the back of my head from that.
RATH: And then two weeks later, when there is the march that leaves from Selma that does finally make it to the capital, you want to be a part of that because you want to show Governor Wallace what he did to you.
LOWERY: I was 14. I wasn't a threat to anybody. There was really about 3,200 people that left Selma on that march that day. But only 300 were allowed to walk all the way from Selma to Montgomery. And I was among that 300. I was terrified. But I also knew that if I did not embrace this fear or take this the fear and - it would one day own me.
RATH: Lynda, this is a book aimed at young readers, and I'm wondering what the thinking is behind that. What do you want young people to take away from the story?
LOWERY: I would like for young people to know that each day of your life is a journey into history and that you are making that history. And you have the ability to change something each day of your life. Believe it or not, people, it can't happen without you.
RATH: Before I let you go, I've got to ask you if you've seen the new film out - the "Selma" film.
LOWERY: Oh, yes.
RATH: What was it like for you to watch that on the screen?
LOWERY: The Bloody Sunday scene - I could not sit up there and just watch it. I was crying, and I had to get up and walk outside of the theater and could not watch that scene again. Those were very real for me.
RATH: Lynda Blackmon Lowery was the youngest person to take part in the entire march from Selma to Montgomery. Her new book is "Turning 15 On The Road To Freedom: My Story Of The 1965 Selma Voting Rights March." Lynda, you're an inspiration. Thank you so much.
LOWERY: Thank you for having me.
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