Activist Frank Nitty's Walk From Milwaukee Concludes At March On Washington
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to start today by taking a look at yesterday's March on Washington, which was held here in Washington, D.C. Thousands of people came to the National Mall to participate in the action known as the Commitment March to protest police violence and racial injustice.
(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)
AL SHARPTON: So we figured we'd let you know, whether we're tall or short, fat or skinny, light-skinned or dark-skinned, Black Lives Matter.
JOYCE BEATTY: Black people face a symbolic chokehold every time we walk, speak up, shop, job, drive - and, yes, breathe.
SHARPTON: No justice.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) No peace.
MARTIN LUTHER KING III: There's a knee upon the neck of democracy, and our nation can only live so long without the oxygen of freedom.
FRANK NITTY: We just marched 750 miles from Milwaukee, Wis., 24 days to get here because we're not going to stop until we get change.
MARTIN: That was the Reverend Al Sharpton, Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, Martin Luther King III. And the final voice you heard was Frank Sensabaugh, better known as Frank Nitty. He is a Milwaukee activist who, like he said, walked 750 miles from Wisconsin to Washington, D.C. And Frank Nitty is with us now.
Welcome. Thank you for joining us.
NITTY: Man, it's amazing. I haven't watched any media or heard any of it, anything. I really never look at myself or listen to myself or anything like that. I'm all about, like, the message and coming together.
MARTIN: So how do you feel? I mean, as you say, you walked a long way. How do you feel? Are you tired? Is your body tired, or...
NITTY: Actually, I feel amazing, believe it or not. I don't know how. It was, like, a very spiritual journey for some reason. Even the last day, I had to walk 40 miles that morning, and then the group walked 42 miles into Washington, D.C., later on that evening. And my body was so fine until the - like, literally the last 20 miles.
And there was a lady that came up. She came up, she said she was looking for me for four hours, and she was crying, and she had her kids with her. She's, like, you're doing what nobody else could do, you know? You're doing this for my kids. And, you know, this is such a big thing, and you're almost there. Just a little bit more to go. And she was crying and everything. And I started crying and everything. But it gave me so much energy, and I was able to walk from there.
And that last hour, it was just, somehow, my legs were so sore. But other than that, I sat down. I couldn't, like, walk on my feet for, like, two hours, hour and a half once I sat down. And now I'm fine. I'm ready for the world. Like, I woke up this morning like I hadn't walked for the last 24 days.
MARTIN: But there were also some ugly things that happened along the way. I understand that members of your group had many trials, that some members of the group were arrested, members - you know, a member of the group was accused of shoplifting after she had bought, like, hundreds of dollars of supplies, that you were shot at in Pennsylvania. So I was just wondering if you were expecting sort of vitriol to be directed at you.
NITTY: What was crazy was as soon as we got into the state of Indiana, somebody was, like, get off the road, spook, you know? And we laughed. We just laughed or whatever. You know what I mean? But it was, like, you can't kind of predict as soon as you cross the state line and take, like, 15 steps (laughter), you know? It was about two blocks, and someone had said that.
You know, and we knew about the racism there, but at the time, I didn't know, like, it was the home of the KKK. Like, they're supposedly still operating in Knox, Ind. And then, like, the head of the Aryan Brotherhood lives in Warsaw, Ind. So we didn't know when I was, like, looking at the map and the road we were taking. I didn't particularly pick these places.
But, yeah, it was extremely rough being called the N-word every five blocks. People threw boots at us. People threw food at us. The police were blocking off gas stations in Indiana so that we couldn't get gas at them, telling gas stations and businesses to close because they said we were there to burn them down. The women couldn't use the bathroom. We had to - someone brought us a portable toilet.
So in Indiana, it was, like, 100 degrees for two days. We had these, like, 30-mile stretches where there was only one gas station, and we weren't allowed to use it. And we're walking, like, 12 hours a day at that point. So we had to deal with the racism, and we had to deal with the heat, and then we had to deal with the police, like, actually spreading the rumors that we were doing these things.
And plus, they were also telling us that we can't go down this street or that street. And we were - we would always go down whatever street we needed to go down. I would always tell them, like, no matter what, you're not going to stop us from walking. You're not going to stop us from getting to D.C.
MARTIN: I want to mention you only had two minutes to speak at the march yesterday. In that time, you made a point to call for a network of activists across the country to organize. What are you hoping people will do?
NITTY: Basically, I think that, like, we have a perception of the media. They show, like, Black Lives Matter, and they show, like, every group that marches is automatically Black Lives Matter. All they know about protesting everyone shows is the violent part, the rioting and stuff. It's always everywhere. So I think that when we organize, we'll be able to have more power with the media.
MARTIN: I feel like what you're saying is that people need to be more disciplined but - about communicating with each other. But what about people who are committing acts of violence? And the fact is, those acts have taken place. The fact is that there is some evidence that that is changing people's minds about the core message that activists like yourself are trying to promote. Do you have any thoughts about what people should do?
NITTY: So I don't condemn rioting. You know, to me, I don't condone it, either. I'm not saying let's go riot or burn anything down. But I think that definitely you have to have a separation between the people that are deciding to go out here and set cars on fire and the people that are trying to have peaceful conversations for a change in this country.
Some people think that's the only way you can get it done. Some people think that that's how - that's what we're supposed to do. They think they're supposed to - you know, as Black people or as people that are fighting back, I'm supposed to go to this. This is my place in doing that.
And that's where organization comes in and explaining to people, like, no, we're not. The rioting is what people do, but we're not here for the rioting and looting. You're not - you know, that's not the only part of history when you look back at how people fought for change in the past. But I also respect the pressure that people put on government.
MARTIN: So before we let you go, what's next for you? I mean, I assume you're going to let your body recover. What's next?
NITTY: For me, I'm definitely going back to Kenosha. I have to go to Kenosha. I have to take care of my hometown before I do anything.
MARTIN: That was Milwaukee activist Frank Sensabaugh, who goes by Frank Nitty. He walked 750 miles from Wisconsin to Washington, D.C. - a trip that began August 4 and ended Friday morning at the March on Washington.
Frank Nitty, Frank Sensabaugh, thank you for talking with us. I hope we'll talk again.
NITTY: Thank you so much for this great opportunity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.