Massachusetts man passes through county during Selma to Memphis walk

Published 1:29 pm Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Massachusetts man is passing through several cities in Shelby County as a part of his 400-mile hike from Selma to Memphis in honor of the Civil Rights Movement. At the beginning of March, Ken Johnston of Amherst could be seen walking along US Route 31 wearing a sign that reads “Selma to Memphis.”

Johnston set out from Selma on Sunday, Feb. 25. Before arriving in Shelby County on Sunday, March 5, Johnston crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, hiked the route of the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965 and visited the Lowndes Interpretive Center in Hayneville.

Johnston said he quit his job in Massachusetts to be able to devote time to the hike.

“It’s my way of giving back for the rights and privileges I’ve received,” Johnston said. “It’s that important to me. I really wanted to have this experience.”

While this is Johnston’s first time in Alabama, this is his second long-distance hike. He walked about 300 miles across Massachusetts last summer, and felt the urge to keep walking. Originally, he considered walking the route of the Underground Railroad, from New Orleans to Canada.

“Something inside me said, ‘Hey, you need to scale back,'” Johnston said.

When he brought his idea of walking from Selma to Memphis to the National Civil Rights Museum, he said he was surprised by their approval.

“I was delighted that they accepted my proposal and frightened that I only had seven weeks to plan it all out,” Johnston said.

For Johnston, the decision to hike from Selma to Memphis was made for two different reasons. Firstly, to acknowledge the efforts and sacrifices made by civil rights activists throughout history.

“I chose this route because I wanted to pay homage to Dr. Martin Luther King and his ideas, also to our civil rights,” Johnston said. “Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham were the hubs of the Civil Rights Movement. I’ll be able to walk the routes and feel their experiences, the fear, the trepidation and the exhilaration, and hear the spirits of our ancestors.

Secondly, Johnston wanted to get more connected to nature and become more physically active.

“I’m doing this to encourage people to move more. For the last 20 years, I worked behind a computer from 9 to 5. It was starting to deteriorate my body,” Johnston said. “I would go out to the gym and exercise, but I wasn’t getting any natural movement.”

Johnson said he has received an overwhelming amount of support from people throughout his journey. One parent arranged for students to cheer him on as he walked by her child’s elementary school in Millbrook. Several people have pulled over to the side of the road to take a picture with him. He said people have also offered him places to stay, food, drinks and other necessities in addition to encouraging words.

“It’s been so overwhelmingly positive, more than I could have imagined. People have been bringing me water, Gatorade and food, some of which I’ve actually had to turn down,” Johnston said. “These are just examples of how amazing Alabamians have been.”

He said he hopes the hike encourages people to stay civically active while also appreciating the rights and freedoms they currently enjoy.

“If we’re not careful, those rights will disappear,” Johnston said. “It’s important to remind people to speak out for their civil rights and remind their legislators and representatives that they value their civil rights.”

During a stop for lunch at the Cracker Barrel in Calera on March 6., Jemison resident Deanna Dupree paid for his lunch and spoke about how his journey has inspired her.

“He’s going to make a real difference,” Dupree said. “I think he’s bringing awareness to a lot of people who don’t have the availability to learn about the sacrifices made for civil rights and women’s rights. If you don’t remember what the past has been, nothing is going to change in the future.”

At night, Johnston said he either camps out or stays with people he has met along the way. He encouraged anyone interested in opening their home to him to reach out. He is currently walking through Alabaster and will be making his way up through Pelham and Hoover. His goal is to arrive in Memphis on April 2, two days before the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination.

“It’s through the generosity of the people I’ve met on the road that I have made it this far,” Johnston said.

For more information about Johnston’s hike or to offer him a place to stay, visit or send him an email at