Earlier this week I watched Selma, the new film on civil rights protests in Selma, Alabama and Dr. Martin Luther King’s negotiations with President Lyndon B Johnson on the passage of legislation to protect the rights of all voters in all parts of the country, but especially in communities like Selma.
March 7th of this year marks the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” the day police brutally attacked a group of 600 peaceful Selma, Alabama marchers as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The Civil Rights Act had been passed the year before, but for Blacks even attempting to vote in rural southern communities like Selma was met with intimidation, violence, and in some cases death. The mass assault on the bridge that day, televised across America, marked one of the lowest points in this country’s fight for civil rights for all its citizens.
If it does nothing else, the film should inspire a new generation of activists to understand Dr. King’s methodology when trying to change systemic injustices:
Negotiate, first. Something I believe most contemporary protesters don’t understand. Protesting, for Dr. King and the other leaders of the civil rights movement, was used as leverage once demands were made. He identified exactly what needed to change and how legislation and public policy are the foundations for equality.
Demonstrate, next. The demonstrations had to be dramatic. They had to capture the attention of the media and the American public and international community. These were risky, as the world witnessed on that “Bloody Sunday” in the spring of 1965 when local law officials used billy clubs and tear gas on defenseless men, women, and even children.
Finally, resist. Non-violent resistance was a test of will. It took patience, courage, strength and sacrifice.
This year, I encourage you to attend one of the many programs held in Dr. King’s honor we have listed in the paper. Or see the movie Selma, and take a young person with you. There are many opportunities for meaningful dialogue.
We still have much to learn from the lessons of the past.