Today marks the 52-year anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington D.C. It also marks the anniversary of a far less prominent but equally symbolic feat.
On August 27, 1963, 27-year old Ledger Smith, aka “Roller Man” made his way into Washington D.C.. His trip originated in Chicago on August 17 and ended 10 days and 685 miles later at the Lincoln Memorial.
His mode of transportation — rollerskates.
As the August 31, 1963 edition of the Baltimore Afro-American reported: “Broad shouldered, lean hipped, ‘Roller Man’ skated into the nation’s capital Tuesday, sore, aching, but hoping he was 700 miles closer to freedom.”
Smith was one of thousands, of all races, who descended on Washington in August of 1963, but his arduous journey was particularly symbolic of the struggle of many African-American’s of his day.
“To dramatize the march, I did it in the slowest way,” Smith told the Afro-American.
Along the way, he received encouragement from many. “He wore a freedom sign across his chest and back. People along the highway, some of them white, said “God bless you,” “I’ll see you in Washington,” “I wish you luck,” according to the Afro-American.
But Smith’s journey was not without opposition. In a radio interview with WAMU upon his arrival, Smith explained how a man had tried to run him down with his car while he was skating through Fort Wayne, Indiana. Luckily, Smith explained that he was protected during his trip by an automobile convoy of NAACP officials.
In terms of preparation, Smith said he ran five miles everyday in the two weeks leading up to the trip. He skated for 10 hours a day and lost 10 pounds by the end of the trip, according to the Afro-American.
Smith, a married man and father of three, worked as an entertainer doing tricks on rollerskates before his monumental journey to Washington. He eventually met up with his wife upon his arrival in D.C., and the couple were two of the 250,000 who got to witness King make his historic address.
As far as roller skating goes, Smith told WAMU, “I don’t want to see those skates for a month now.”
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