In photos of the 54-mile third march from Selma to Montgomery on March 21, 1965, Martin Luther King, John Lewis and other demonstrators can be seen wearing the iconic Hawaiian flower garlands.
It’s a jarring, out-of-place image of fragile, flowery optimism amidst a backdrop of intimidation, violence and federalized troops.
The journey of those flowers from Hawaii to Alabama started a year earlier, when King delivered a lecture at the University of Hawaii. It was there that he met Rev. Abraham Akaka, the brother of future U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.
In the lead-up to the third march, as President Lyndon Johnson was making preparations to protect the demonstrators with military policemen and the Alabama National Guard, Rev. Akaka sent gifts of bright white lei from the Pacific Ocean to the Deep South to be draped on the marchers.
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