Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Walter Lee Fowlkes: A Soldier in the Civil Rights Movement Who Should Be Remembered

Some people we don't know should never be forgotten. A little bit of an awkward philosophical thought, but its true nonetheless.

One such person is Walter Lee Fowlkes is a name few people remember, but I'll bet everyone of us know of him. Fowlkes in the young man frozen in time as the victim of a vicious German shepherd police dog, held tenuously by a Birmingham, Alabama policeman. Young Fowlkes is the cultural icon who reminds us as the blood and broken bodies that bought the freedom of millions of Americans.

The young man waving his shirt in front of the police dog is Walter Lee Fowlkes
These were the boys and girls of 'Project C', the demonstration orchestrated by Martin Luther King, James Bevel and Wyatt T. Walker to force the hand of Alabama authorities to end segregation in Birmingham. They were the children who wanted to march for their freedom so badly they all skipped school to participate in the historic march which met with confrontation at Kelly-Ingram Park across the street from 16th Street Baptist Church. The same church which months later would be the site of the bombing which took the lives of four little girls one Sunday morning.

When people from all over the world saw the dogs and fire hoses being turned on children it marked the beginning of the end of Jim Crow in the South. Birmingham business leaders in New York and as far away as China, knew that things had to change.

Statue of a police dog attacking a child at Kelly-Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama

That's how significant Project C, the March on Birmingham and Walter Lee Fowlkes were. Walter Lee Fowlkes died, February 13, 2014.

"...Civil rights attorney Demetrius Newton, who represented Rosa Parks and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and later became the first black speaker of the House in the Alabama Legislature, said Fowlkes was one of the young men attacked by dogs. City arrest records show that Fowlkes was arrested on May 3, 1963, the day of the showdown between police dogs and demonstrators."

"...He had suffered from dementia in recent years and was not able to do interviews. But people who knew him say he was not worried about seeking credit for his role in the civil rights movement."

""He was just very humble," said Sharon Jordan, his cousin who was raised in the same house by Fowlkes' mother, Mary, after her own mother died. "He didn't elaborate on it a lot. That's just what happened.""

"Jordan recalled that Fowlkes was a student at Miles College at the time of the civil rights demonstrations led by King in Birmingham in April and May 1963."

""He didn't make a fuss of it," Jordan said. "He just went on with his life and wasn't really looking for notoriety. At the time, he was motivated, committed, doing what he had to do. He was known and admired in Fairfield. He was definitely revered in the community. They knew he was a brave guy. You can see in the picture he wasn't backing down. He wanted change, and he was going to be part of that change, come hell or high water.""

Fowlkes had dementia. He may not have remembered that fateful day on May 3, 1963. But we ought not ever forget him.

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