Niagara Gazette — “I came out on the steps and there in the street below was an awesome line of state troopers-blue uniforms shoulder ... Facing Clark was John Lewis and a ragtag group of about twenty-five marchers. Clark said, “This is as far as you can go. Turn around and go back. You are NOT going in the courthouse today.” John said, “The courthouse is a public place and we have a right to go inside. We will NOT be turned around.”
Chestnut wrote, “I could feel my heart pound in my head ... I waited there nervously for two minutes that seemed like two hours as the big, burly white man and the rather short, small black man faced off in the middle of Alabama Avenue.
Then Clark blinked and backed away. “Goddamn it, go on in, “he said, and the blue line of troopers parted like the Red Sea ...”
“I’ll be damned. I’ll be damned! The establishment has blinked!”
Wrote Chestnut, “In that moment I saw that the white South was NOT invincible.”
What I had thought was power in numbers and weapons I began to see as a kind of weakness ... I understood for the first time some of the things King had been saying ... about moral right being superior to temporal power, or saying, “If there is nothing for which you are willing to die, you are not fit to live.”
King was right.
New York Times writer Bruce Weber’s obituary published Sept. 30, 2008 referred to him as “an underpublicized figure in the civil rights movement, a black man who began his career by taking on the ordinary legal briefs of ordinary black men and women, daring to work within the white establishment to achieve just ends.
As Weber pointed out, “Mr. Chestnut pried dozens if not hundreds of voting rights demonstrators out of Selma’s jails, and he was present at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, a day that became known as Bloody Sunday when the police beat demonstrators to prevent them from beginning a march to Montgomery. It was two weeks later that the march, led by Dr. King, was actually completed.”