American pair retracing original Civil Rights March

Derry bound Ken Johnston and Daniel Shipp at the start of their walk at Belfast City Hall.
Derry bound Ken Johnston and Daniel Shipp at the start of their walk at Belfast City Hall.

Two Americans are due to arrive in Derry tonight after retracting the original Civil Rights March route from Belfast to Derry 50 years ago.

Ken Johnston (58), from Holyoke in Massachusetts and Daniel Shipp (43), from Utah/ Idaho, met-up last year while travelling along the original American march undertaken by Martin Luther King in Alabama.

They then decided they would fly to Ireland and complete the pivotal People’s Democracy march of January 1969 here as well.

Speaking from Dungiven yesterday, Ken said they had departed from Belfast City Hall on April 10 and were adhering to the original route. “We are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1969 march,” he said.

“We met on the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama. That march was led by Dr Martin Luther King. People heard about that walk here in Northern Ireland on TV and were inspired to create their own civil rights walk. They created this Belfast to Derry civilrights march and we are retracing it symbolically, linking the civil rights movements.”

Daniel, like Ken, is a human rights activist, said that the weather had held out for most of the route, while the reception along the way has been mainly positive. “For the most part people have been very gracious, very kind and very helpful. We have run into a few others, but they were the exception not the rule.”

Daniel and Ken plan to reach Claudy and Burntollet Bridge, where civil rights marchers were set upon and beaten during the original march, tomorrow before pressing on to Derry.

We’re definitely sore and tired - it isn’t easy, especially as it is unassisted and we have to carry all of our gear and both packs are 40 to 50 lbs,” Daniel said.

But the men won’t be hanging up their hiking boots any time soon as they plan to undertake Famine Walks in Ireland over the coming weeks.

For more information, visit www.ourwalktofreedom.com