Can you image seeing a photo of yourself taken 48 years ago on a Black History Month calendar alongside images of Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Dr. King and Jesse Owens? That’s exactly what happened to Edith Lee-Payne of Detroit, Michigan.
It wasn’t until Lee-Payne, 60, recently received a phone call from her cousin that she found out a picture of herself at 12 years old was among several well-known faces in Black history.
The then-pre-teen had attended the March on Washington with her mother on her 12th birthday in 1963. A sad, but hopeful, face stared with intent eyes while holding a flag at the rally. Since that day, Lee-Payne’s image has been replicated in textbooks, calendars and is currently on a National Park Service brochure given to visitors to the King Memorial in Washington, D.C. The original image is stored in the National Archives, where, for decades, its caption identified the girl simply as a “young child in March on Washington.”
"It's very humbling and very overwhelming still to know that my face is associated with the historic March on Washington and with Dr. King, and that it has touched so many people,” Lee-Payne told the Detroit Free Press.
Today, Lee-Payne serves as a community activist who continues to turn the dreams of Dr. King into a reality. She often attends city government meetings and speaks on behalf of Detroiters advocating for stronger safety measures, better public transportation and other city improvements. She is also one of the 28 plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed last year urging that Michigan’s emergency manager law be declared unconstitutional on the grounds that it nullifies the votes of local people.
After learning of her widely publicized image, Lee-Payne was recently the featured speaker during a Black History Month program at the Detroit School of Arts, a high school where one of her eight grandchildren is a freshman.
"Students need to understand, they can be making history at any given moment at any given time," Principal Rita Davis said.
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(Photo: Rowland Scherman, Gannett)