Selma march at 50: 54-mile trek was 'magnificent'

This story appears in the Selma march at 50 feature series. View the full series.

by Paul Murray

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Editor's note: Every day this week, we are publishing reflections of Bloody Sunday, its aftermath and the march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., to commemorate the march's 50th anniversary. Find more Selma reflections.

An iconic picture of the Selma-to-Montgomery march hangs in the living room of Paul Bokulich's California home. It shows a long line of demonstrators silhouetted against a darkening sky. Bokulich was among them, he said.

In 1965, Bokulich was studying philosophy at Wayne State University. The former seminarian lived with other Catholic activists near the downtown Detroit campus. After the Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist civil rights activist, was murdered in March, Bokulich and several housemates answered Martin Luther King Jr.'s call for volunteers to come to Selma, Ala.

The others left Selma after a few days, but Bokulich remained. When Judge Frank Johnson issued the order allowing the march to Montgomery, Bokulich offered his assistance. Because of his experience as an ambulance attendant, he was assigned to the medical detail. Thousands of people walked segments on the first and last days of the march, but only 300 people, including Bokulich, covered all 54 miles.

"It was magnificent," he remembers. "You had this singing and you had these young people in the front who would walk in step. They made a drama out of the whole thing."

Selma marked a turning point in Bokulich's life. He never returned to college. For the next two years, he worked for civil rights on the staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He and his wife, Patricia, organized newly registered voters in majority-black Greene County, Ala. Living in a sharecropper's shack, they helped prepare the way for the Rev. Thomas Gilmore to become the county's first African-American sheriff.

In the 1970s, the Bokulichs moved to Soquel, Calif., where they built a house and raised eight children. Paul operated a gas station. In retirement, he is a part-time maintenance man for St. Joseph Parish in Capitola.

A version of this story appeared in the Feb 27-March 12, 2015 print issue under the headline: Paul Bokulich: 'It was magnificent' .

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