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The man who roller-skated over 600 miles to watch Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 'I Have A Dream' speech

Martin Luther King Jr.
Posted at 2:53 PM, Feb 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-10 16:53:01-05

In the 1960s, history had a powerful nature and made an indelible mark. One man's trip to see one of our country's most iconic events is an incredible story.

Ledger Smith, who was a 27-year-old athlete, decided to travel on his roller skates going the 700 miles starting in Chicago, to attend the March on Washington and witness Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic "I Have A Dream" speech on Aug. 29, 1963.

Ledger managed to complete 685 miles of that trip on his skates, holding a sign which read "I'm skating to Washington, D.C. for civil rights, 1963, N.A.A.C.P." The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture shared an iconic image of Ledger on Twitter.

A newspaper article from the Baltimore Afro-American reported on what they called the "Roller Man" who began his 10-day trip to Washington on Aug. 17 of that year. The article read, "Broad shouldered, lean hipped 'Roller Man' skated into the nation's capital Tuesday, sore, aching, but hoping he was 700 miles closer to freedom."

As the paper reported, Ledger was escorted during the trip by NAACP officials who drove in cars, skipping the larger cities on the way for safety because of traffic. The Baltimore paper reported that Ledger did get some "nasty" remarks while passing through one town in Indiana, and then was almost hit by a car in another incident. It was unclear the intent of that encounter.

Ledger was known as an entertainer performing in towns like Los Angeles with a fire hoop act he was known for. He was a married father of three children and his wife attended the March on Washington, but decided to travel by train instead.