Bay Area man walked 265 miles to fight for equal voting rights

If Richard Smiley's feet could talk, they would tell stories of walking for justice and civil rights. 

His journey is one of Black heritage and it's what's right with Tampa Bay.

"We walked 50 miles from Selma to Montgomery. On the Mississippi March, we walked 265 miles," Smiley recalled.

He was only 16 when he joined the Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery to fight for his right to vote.

"We were attacked by the state troopers with tear gas and billy clubs. They beat us all the way back across the bridge," he said. "Once we got back across the bridge, the posse with horses attacked us. They beat us all the way back to the church."

At the time, Smiley was staying at a foster home. They told him if he marched, he wouldn't have a place to stay when he got back.

"I told her I understand her job and I had a moral obligation to march and fight for the rights of black folks," Smiley said.

After the march, he returned to his Alabama foster home and was locked out. But he doesn't regret his decision. He believes that it helped change the social landscape, winning the right to vote and leading the way for Black men and women to be elected to political office.

"When we first started in Selma in 1965, they had only about 600 Black elected officials all over the country. We saw the progress. It went from the 600 to thousands. We've had an African American president," he said.

Smiley hopes more people will get excited about the importance of voting.

"We have to understand that voter right, is an important right," Smiley said, adding that the fight for the right to vote continues. "The struggle is not ending. We just have to renew it. Have to be committed to continue to fight for the right to vote."