Jan. 18, 2015 (San Diego) A woman walks into the County Office trying to register to vote. The Clerk demands that she first repeat the preamble of the Constitution. Then he demands the number of County Judges and finally their names. The scene is part of Selma, the movie directed by Ava DuVernay that chronicles the three months of the civil rights movement leading to the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965, and this scene is a good summary of the many tactics used to keep African Americans in the South from voting.
Fast forwards fifty years, in Shelby County v Holder the Supreme Court gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In effect, we are back where started. Pre clearance, where states with a history of racist voting policies, had to clear new voting laws with the Department of Justice, was removed. The Department of Justice has filed lawsuits for voting ID laws, which are nothing more in implementation than the old poll tax. While we do not expect African Americans to be asked to tell how many gummy bears are in a jar before a ballot is given, or rather at least not yet, similar tactics are afoot.
Why are we back where we started? The country is becoming increasingly a minority majority country, and certain interests, yes the usual suspects, do not want minorities to vote.
There is another aspect about Selma that was striking. Those involved in the civil rights movement of the era were willing to die for the cause. They knew they were at danger at all times, and they also knew (like some things ever change) that the FBI was keeping tabs on them. Why? When J Edgar Hoover speaks and refers to Dr. Martin Luther King a radical, in the mind of Hoover King was a radical. What King wanted was nothing short of revolutionary.
The excuses given by politicians are very similar as well. It is as if we went and watched a movie about the present with 1960s vehicles. In the end there was a connection drawn to the current civil rights movement, and Ferguson. It was correct since the struggle for social justice never ends.
As to the portrayal of both King and LBJ, they were the same confused and conflicted leaders that history (outside of cartoons) present. King had his moments of doubt, and Johnson could have never whipped the votes for passage of the 1965 Civil Rights Act without the march on Selma and the people who were injured and killed on national television at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
Yes, the acting was superb, and the environment was very well recreated. Some creative license was taken with some events, but “Eyes on the Prize” is a documentary, this is not. This is a good introduction to the movement, and the dynamics that were part of it.
It is a worthy watch on Martin Luther King weekend and a good reminder of how far we have come, and how far we have gone back. Voting matters, playing both the outsider and the inside game is how we achieve real change in this country. Yes, the country in 1965 felt like it could have gone into a civil war.
As to Governor George Wallace, yes, he was that stuck in the past. Things were done because that is what the people, his people, whites, wanted them done. The man resisted the changes that were coming, and would be pleased to see how far back we have gone.
On a personal note, I have met Congressman John Lewis, and even today, the man is committed to peaceful resistance. He is a man that speaks out of moral courage. He has also walked the path of civil resistance.
Edited to add clarity to some sentences.
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