Thoughts on the Civil Rights Movement in Light of the Recently Released Movie Selma
By Ken K. Gourdin
I recently saw the movie Selma, about the march the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. led from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. to highlight the causes of civil rights, voting rights, and equality in other areas for blacks.
As the film opens, Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) is seen filling out a voter registration form and taking it to the clerk, who, as a test to determine her suitability to be allowed to vote, orders her to recite the Preamble to the Constitution. (Yikes! I consider myself to be relatively civically literate and engaged, and I’m not even sure I could do that!) Once she does so, he then asks her how many state court judges there are in Alabama. Alas, her answer is off by one. (Better luck next time?)
I’m with that faction of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that’s on the “wrong” side of history with respect to same-sex marriage. (I think there are differences between that issue and racial equality, but that, perhaps, is another issue for another blog post on another day.) Given what some of the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the time said about the Civil Rights Movement, as much as I’d like to think (and hope) I would’ve been on the “right” side of history with regard to it, I do wonder.
And, while I suppose sufficient conflict has to be at the heart of any good drama (and whatever other disagreements I might’ve had with President Johnson, because I do lean conservative), I don’t particularly like how the movie rewrote history by making President Johnson much more reticent to support voting rights and civil rights legislation than he actually was.
Provided the film was true to history in another respect, one of the things I was fascinated by is that, apparently, there was a “convervative” wing of the Civil Rights Movement whose members thought that Dr. King’s methods—passive and nonviolent though they were—were still too “activist” (my word). Another thing that I was fascinated by is the “false start” King led before the march actually was completed: faced with a line of state police awaiting the marchers as they start to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, King decides to turn back. I believe that the Holy Spirit operates actively in the lives of men, of all religious persuasions. I wonder if Rev. King was warned of impending danger, such that attempting the march at that moment would have been ill advised.
All in all, it was a good opportunity to reflect on the blessings of the freedom I so often take for granted—but, as I have written elsewhere, had there been no Civil Rights Act or Voting Rights Act, there likely would have been no Americans with Disabilities Act, either—so it’s not as though I’m completely incapable of appreciating Dr. King’s legacy, despite how much I probably do take for granted.