Newspaper article Sunshine Coast Sunday (Maroochydore, Australia)

On the Road to Civil Rights; as They Marched 87km in Five Days, Dan Budnik Was There Every Step of the Way, Bearing Witness to the Hopes and Heroism of the Selma Protesters. Now, Half a Century on, His Extraordinary Story Forms a New Book. Tim Walker Reports

Newspaper article Sunshine Coast Sunday (Maroochydore, Australia)

On the Road to Civil Rights; as They Marched 87km in Five Days, Dan Budnik Was There Every Step of the Way, Bearing Witness to the Hopes and Heroism of the Selma Protesters. Now, Half a Century on, His Extraordinary Story Forms a New Book. Tim Walker Reports

Article excerpt

THEY CALLED him "Do-Right".

Will Henry Rogers, a 16-year-old African-American living in the Deep South during the mid-1960s, had a good heart but a nose for trouble. So when Bob Mants, secretary of the prominent civil rights organisation SNCC (Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee), took the teenager under his wing, he would often tell him, "Remember: do right, do right."

So recalls Dan Budnik, the photographer who captured an indelible image of young Do-Right carrying a hand-stitched US flag through rural Alabama on the historic voting-rights march from Selma to Montgomery, led by Martin Luther King in March, 1965. In the photograph, Do-Right and his Stars and Stripes are being saluted by a sergeant from the Alabama National Guard.

To Budnik, now 81, the youngest of the Selma-Montgomery marchers were the most impressive.

"They were known as foot soldiers," he says, "and they had taken the places of their older siblings and parents after they were arrested. That took a lot of guts. They were heroic."

As the Oscar-nominated film Selma depicts, the success of the march helped bring about the Voting Rights Act, which passed through Congress months later.

Now, half a century on, Budnik has collected his photographs from the period in a new book, Marching to the Freedom Dream.

Though he was born on Long Island, New York, far from the Jim Crow South -- and in an overwhelmingly white community -- Budnik first witnessed virulent racial prejudice in his first week at primary school, while playing marbles with a group of fellow five-year-olds. One of the other boys, he recalls, had recently moved with his family from Alabama.

"One of the few black people in town was an old man with white hair, who walked with a cane and always had a friendly greeting for everyone. This boy jumped up in the middle of our game, threw a fistful of pebbles at the old man and yelled the n-word. I was shocked. I could not come up with a logical explanation for his behaviour. When I went to Selma in '65, I thought about that boy."

Budnik had gone on to study painting at the Art Students League of New York in the 1950s, where he encountered a group of influential artists who included Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Jacob Lawrence, who would become the most prominent African-American painter of the 20th century.

Budnik's book is dedicated to Charles Alston, the teacher he shared with Lawrence. Alston, the first African-American to teach at the Art Students League, would often invite Budnik to dinner at his home, which was situated in the same building as boxer Joe Louis and WEB DuBois, who had co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). They would often drop by after dinner, he says.

"I would sit there as a fly on the wall as the conversation got around to what we would now call the civil rights movement. …

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