A day and a time which I’ll never forget’: Alabama woman recalls marching in Selma, meeting Dr. Martin Luther King when she was just 8 years old

SELMA, Ala. — Perhaps no one was more traumatized by the Bloody Sunday massacre than its youngest participant — a brave little girl named Sheyann.

Sheyann Webb-Christburg was just 8 years old when a chance meeting with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. propelled her to the Edmund Pettus Bridge on that dark day in March 1965.

“I was playing jump rope outside the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church when these beautiful cars drove up in a caravan,” recalled Webb-Christburg, now a 58-year-old youth activist.

“One of the men had on a white starched shirt and black tie … A man holding his jacket asked if we knew who that man was. He said, ‘This is Dr. Martin Luther King.’”
First-hand account from Sheyann Webb-Christburg, present at Selma, Alabama, marches in 1965. She met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Sheyann Webb-Christburg recalls meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when she was 8 years old at the march in Selma, Alabama.

King immediately started speaking directly to Webb-Christburg and her friend.

“One of the questions he asked my best friend and I was, ‘What do you children want?’ We looked at each other not knowing how to respond.

“He said, ‘When I ask you that question, “What do you want?” I want you to say ‘freedom.’

“He then asked us, ‘When do you want it?’ And we looked at each other not knowing how to respond to that question.

“He said, ‘Now, when I ask you little girls when do you want it, I want you to say, ‘now.’

“This was our first acquaintance with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” she recalled, “a day and a time which I’ll never forget.”

Days later, Webb-Christburg sneaked out of her house and joined the marchers massed upon Selma’s famous bridge.

“When I looked down, I saw hundreds of policemen and state troopers on horses,” she said. “I saw dogs. I saw tear gas masks, billy clubs, and I became even more frightened.”

The lawmen asked the leaders of the march to turn around.

“After they refused, racism unleashed its brutality on us,” she recalled. “Tear gas had begun to burst in the air. People were being beaten to the ground as if they were not human beings.

“The dogs and horses had begun to push their way into the crowd, trampling over people as if they were just dogs.”

Webb-Christburg (photo), like the other marchers, turned around and ran. She didn’t stop until she made it all the way back home.

“I was crying, devastated, trembling,” she recalled. “The picture of Bloody Sunday has never left my heart.”

Share your thoughts

Leave your comments