Selma and the folks at the ‘back of the line’

Lee A. Daniels | 1/26/2015, 11:51 a.m.
I wasn’t surprised that Ava DuVernay’s Selma was nearly completely snubbed for the Oscar nominations last week, as were several ...
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His most recent book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America. He collaborated with Rachel Robinson on her 1998 book, Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait. NNPA

Thankfully, I was also able to realize it wasn’t only all about me. I understood the movement’s other meanings, too: That intellectual keenness and “smarts” weren’t limited to the formally educated and the socially prominent. That rough-hewn speech could be just as powerful, if not more so, than polished oratory. That the ability to inspire and lead people existed in and was exercised by all sorts of people, and that participation in communal affairs and collaboration with others was vitally important if the community and individuals within it were to advance.

I’m glad for the controversy about DuVernay’s Selma. For it may provide another reason for some viewers of all ages to read some of the considerable number of significant nonfiction books that provide a more complete factual account of the movement in Selma and across the South and North, and of America in the 1950s and 1960s.

That will not only give them a fuller understanding of the racist fury the freedom struggle in the South faced; it will also make even clearer the values that fortified the civil rights activists in the struggle, and why those values proved more powerful than the willingness of the region’s racist power structure and its henchmen to do evil.

Embedded in that understanding is another powerful lesson that’s always worth re-affirming. It’s not only the leaders; it’s those at the back of the line, too, who make movements for social justice work.

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York..