Human Flower Project

Hawaii’s Delegation to Selma

A feminist and psychologist in London amplifies our story of how leis joined the March from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and others wore leis as they marched from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965.

Photo: WFA/Associated Press, via the Guardian

Many thanks to Nona Ferdon for filling in some of the gaps in our story of flowers in the history-making March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1965. We noted that several of the Civil Rights marchers, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wore leis.

“You wondered how they got there,” Nona writes of the floral garlands. “We took them. There were five of us representing Hawaii on the march.“

In our earlier story we had credited the pastor of Honolulu’s Kawaiahao Church, Rev. Abraham Akaka, who had befriended Dr. King the previous year, with sending the leis. He, in fact, may have been behind this effort in some way, but Nona, who delivered the flowers, doesn’t recall ever meeting Rev. Akaka or hearing of his involvement in this gesture. “I don’t know who organized on the leis,” she writes. “It was all on short notice and we showed up at the airport around 5 in the afternoon. There was no publicity or anything like that, we just said goodbye to some friends and left.  Taking leis was just something that anyone from Hawaii would do almost automatically.” Only after the march, when the leis had made their glorious statement, did the flowers inspire curiosity. Floral garlands around the neck weren’t, and still aren’t, a common sight in the Deep South.

imageWelcomed back in Hawaii, after the Alabama march were (l-r) Glenn Izutsu, Robert Browne, Nona (Springel) Ferdon, Charles Campbell, and Linus Pauling, Jr..

Photo: AP

Nona writes that members of the Hawaiian delegation were “Glenn Izutsu, head of the student union at the University of Hawaii at that time (I understand that he is dead now); Dr. Robert Browne (a psychiatrist who is also dead): me, who was a research fellow at the UH at that time (and who is still very much alive and a Dr. of clinical psychology here in London - now carrying my original birth-name i.e. Nona M. Ferdon); Charles Campbell (who was a high school teacher and I don’t know his current status of health); and Dr. Linus Pauling, Jr. (son of Linus the two time Nobel prize winning scientist and who, I believe, is still alive now.)”

imagePresenting the leis in Selma

Photo: Ebony magazine/May 1965, p. 46

We have not been able to locate a large format version of the photo Ebony magazine first published, of Nona and the rest presenting the leis to the march leaders, including King. You magazine collectors can check a spring 1965 issue of Ebony (and if you’re energetic and generous, scan the photo and send it along!)

Nona modestly neglected to tell us that in addition to being a strong civil rights advocate, she was a force in the feminist movement. She was an early member of N.O.W., and in the 1970s founded and co-directed The Boston Psychological Center for Women.  More power to you, Nona!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/18 at 02:46 PM


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