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Saginaw mural depicting local Civil Rights activist finished, unveiled

By Elisse Ramey and Emily Brown

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    SAGINAW, Michigan (WNEM) — Over the last few days the public has watched a mural take shape on the side of a Saginaw building and Friday, it was finished and unveiled to the public.

It sheds light on a contentious time in our nation’s past by illustrating an ally who is standing up for the civil rights of Black Americans. TV5 looked through CBS News archives and found rare footage of the moment that carries so much emotion for so many people.

A man on crutches pushed forward to the tune of Yankee doodle dandy in Alabama in March of 1965. Two large American flags waved on either side as Jim Letherer courageously kept pace with those beside him.

When you think of the American Civil Rights Movement, Letherer may not be who you picture.

“When he marched in Selma, some people on the side lines were kind of like ‘um…’ but he had a chant, he said left, left because he had no right leg,” said Mary Kay Kartz, Letherer’s niece.

Terry Pruitt, president of the Saginaw NACCP said he was being boo’d and cat called, but people should know him.

TV5 found and incredible moment captured that showed Letherer marching alongside civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and shows they even appear to have a brief conversation.

TV5′s Elisse Ramey showed Kartz the footage.

“I’ve never seen that,” she said, taken aback. “Yup, that’s him. Can you imagine those uncomfortable crutches?”

Letherer walked more than 50 miles protesting systemic racism in the Jim Crow South – racism that impeded the voting rights of Black people.

He was diagnosed with cancer at a young age which eventually lead to the amputation of his right leg, something Kartz said drove his compassion for others.

“For someone to be judged, and I think from his perspective, from what you looked like, because you know they would look at him and think you can’t do anything. He didn’t have a leg and back at that time, if you had any kind of disability you must not have had a brain,” Kartz explained.

Plumes of tear gas, people running, the trek through Selma, and over the now symbolic Edmund Pettus Bridge – the backdrop of bloody Sunday, where only weeks earlier John Lewis and other Civil Rights leaders were infamously met with opposition and brutally beaten by police.

“I think this is a demonstration of progress that is definitely being made,” Dr. King said. “The fact that once our people were totally and terribly brutalized here and today we can march by this very same spot without being stopped and without being harassed up ‘til this point represents a level of progress that is very significant.”

Kartz said her uncle was told by his friend Dr. King to stay away from the bloody Sunday march for fear of his safety, but that wouldn’t stop him from marching for justice.

“They were worried he would be killed,” she explained.

A piece of that progress is depicted below, is from Alabama. In Saginaw, Flint muralist Kevin Burdick turned the wall of this building into a canvas to illustrate a time in history that wasn’t so black and white. Each brick is a carefully colored detail of the past.

“Seeing the mural bring them to tears is the ultimate compliment really. I just wanted his story to be told,” Burdick said.

The final painting was unveiled Friday at E. Genesee Street and Franklin Street. It was inspirational for those who gathered like Pruitt.

“If Jim Leatherer, a Jewish, one legged amputee, can walk with Dr. King, then we can walk together to solve some of our community’s problems,” Pruitt said. “Jim Letherer is from Saginaw. Little known for many people of this community that he walked those 54 miles with Dr. King side by side on one leg in crutches.”

Now everyone can see the Saginaw son, mid-stride in Alabama standing for civil rights and marching for progress.

“Although we’ve come a long way, we are still being judged by the color of our skin and my hope and prayer is that anyone who looks on this says if Jimmy can do it why can’t I?” Kartz said.

Selma was not Jim’s first nor his last march. He traveled around the country and the world fighting for civil rights. He’s even been honored with a statue.

Letherer died in the city where he was born in 2001.

The Great Mural Project, along with the NAACP Saginaw Branch and Pit & Balcony Community Theater helped bring the mural together.

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