Some of my family went to see Selma on MLK Day and we ran into some friends while we were there. That’s my Mommy with the head full of snow-white hair sitting with two of her dear friends, Sis. Nevels and Sis. Lyons.
Selma is a powerful film, but it is entertainment, not a full-on documentary. Selma is powerful, not perfect, powerful and we were all moved, but in different ways. We were three generations with varied responses.
My mother’s painful and vivid memories as a black woman born in 1930, married in 1950 to a proud black man and raising black children the same ages as those little black girls murdered in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in the 60s were stark ones. Her friends, women I’ve known all my life, their memories were painful and vivid as well. I should not have been surprised. I wasn’t thinking. Selma is a powerful and evocative film. It was hard for Mommy, Sis. Nevels and Sis. Lyons.
My sister Cheryl and I grew up with our big brother David watching the cruel violence of fire hoses and attack dogs unleashed on people that looked just like us, just like our parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends-basically everybody in our largely segregated world in Columbus, Ohio. We children sat in silence in front of the TV every night while our father seethed-there was no talking during the news. His anger and our required silence during that hour seared those images in my mind and helped me (eventually) understand his hyper-vigilance.
My sons Charles, Damon and Evan grew up reading King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail along with Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth and Biko’s Black Consciousness and Machiavelli’s The Prince from the time they were 11 or 12 (one of the benefits of homeschooling;) so they were aware of some of the politics of Selma, academically. CMadison grew up in Memphis. He and his father, Rev. Dr. H.C. Nabrit, marched in the Sanitation Worker’s Strike. Dr. & Mrs. King stayed at CMadison’s parents’ home back when public accommodations were closed to black people. Our sons were aware of some of the politics of Selma personally. But information trasmitted through books and discussion can be greatly enhanced by the visual. Selma is a powerful film.
One of the most striking scenes, the scene that most made me thing of CMadison and Daddy was when Dr. King initially went to the White House and President Johnson jokingly mentioned his inability to get MLK to work in his administration. CMadison and Daddy would have pulled our sons close and said “Don’t go for the okey-doke!” The various 60s era civil rights’ coalitions had different, sometimes even divisive approaches. They were often insular and harshly independent in the formation and delinieation of strategy. Yet when necessary they were able to create spaces for broad-based and inclusive work efforts. But the policies, the positions, the forward movements and yes, the mis-steps and the mistakes were largely self-directed. The invasive wire-taps of the homes and offices of civil rights leaders, staff and volunteers made the government’s gaze omnipresent but it was never omnipotent. Non-violent resistence captured the imagination of the world and altered U.S. public policy because it was riveting, situated on the vaunted position of the moral high ground. The relentless and revolutionary power inherent in non-violent resistence is not for the faint of heart (or me) but it is a force that has been proven to be irresistible. It was riviting and irresistible in Selma and it is riveting and irresistible today in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland and elsewhere.
If you are able, please go and see Selma. Ms. Ava DuVernay created a powerful film. If possible, take some old(er) folks for the reminder and some young(er) folks for the information because truly “No lie can live forever.”