Selma marches on to let our voices soar above the mix

KIM M. KEENAN | 3/3/2015, 8:11 a.m.
Selma. For those of a certain age, the word Selma is evocative of a time when people stood against insurmountable ...
Kim M. Keenan NNPA

(NNPA) – Selma. For those of a certain age, the word Selma is evocative of a time when people stood against insurmountable odds. It is an ever-lasting illustration of why the right to vote must never be taken for granted. People of all colors bled and died so that we might exercise that quintessential American right to choose our elected leaders. We must feed this spirit to a new generation so that they might experience the freedom that comes from knowing their history, so they are not doomed to repeat it.

I watched the movie Selma through the eyes of my teenager and it hit me that they do not understand who they are because they have not been afforded the luxury of understanding how we got here. Here, meaning a society with Black mayors, senators and even a president. Here, in a society with major cracks in our “post-racial” America. To see a teenager try to make sense of the bombing of four little girls in a Birmingham church is to see innocence and armor in the eyes of a young Black male eager for a post-Trayvon society.

Ava Duvernay’s Selma is more than a movie. It is a call to action to reclaim our history in our own words. When I saw it, all I kept thinking was she took the women out of the kitchen and restored them to their pivotal role in history. Today, it seems so obvious that Black women had to be omnipresent in the struggle. I still remember hearing that Dorothy Height always placed herself in the middle of the picture lest she get cropped out later when the picture was printed. Duvernay captured all of this with a subtly so exquisite, one wonders how this story could have been told any other way.

Her critics claim that she portrayed Lyndon B. Johnson as George Wallace-light, but of course, if you change the lens, you change the view. PolitiFact, the fact-checking site, affirmed that President Obama was correct when he asserted that during LBJ’s first 20 years in Congress, he opposed every civil rights bill that came up for a vote.

The fact-checking site quoted Johnson biographer Robert Caro as saying, “He had been a congressman, beginning in 1937, for eleven years, and for eleven years he had voted against every civil rights bill – against not only legislation aimed at ending the poll tax and segregation in the armed services but even against legislation aimed at ending lynching: a one hundred percent record.”

Caro added that while running for the U.S. Senate in 1948, Johnson had assailed President Harry Truman’s entire civil rights program as “an effort to set up a police state.”

It was only in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination that Johnson, picking up the torch of the slain president, rose above his past. He deserves credit for that, but he did not, as some of his supporters claim, come up with the idea of the Selma-to-Montgomery March.