Op-EdOpinion

Beyond the Rhetoric: ‘Selma’ Can Help Teach the Young

Harry Alford

By Harry C. Alford
NNPA Columnist

 

If you haven’t seen the movie “Selma” yet please hurry up and do I and take your family and anyone else who is close to you. This film thoroughly brings out what happened in that sleepy Alabama town back in 1965. Selma became a battleground with the importance rivaling Normandy D-Day, Gettysburg, Yorktown, etc. What the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did was genius. He showed through American television just how ugly and mean-spirited southern segregation was. It was the segregated South that was the prototype for South Africa’s apartheid system.

It is extremely important that every American understand this era and what it took to evolve us from the horror. My family roots are rural Louisiana and just about every summer during the 1960s we would journey back to those red clay roads of Bossier Parish. During a few summers, my mother would put me on a Greyhound bus and send me on an itinerary to visit each one of my aunts and uncles during my stay. Her main mission besides letting me know my roots was to let me feel the evil of segregation and how vile it could be. It was more than impressionable on my young curious mind.

There were moments that were downright terrifying. I can still remember the screams directed at me for sitting towards the front of a bus; being chased out of a public restroom; walking through the front door of a department store; asking for the restroom key at a gas station; hearing the term nigger and realizing someone was addressing me. Gone are those days but the memory will last forever. The experience has made me intolerable towards discrimination of any kind. Mom’s plan for me was a success.

It is very difficult to explain these times to our own children and grandchildren. Furthermore, it can be equally difficult to make them understand the importance of knowing about it. The history of African Americans is very unique and is something we can all be very proud of. As one college professor (Jewish) explained to me at the University of Wisconsin, “It defies nature and all of the odds that American Blacks are alive and walking around this nation. The mere survival of what you have gone through in this nation is truly unique and something to hold with pride.”

Selma adequately describes the segregated South as I knew it. This is a history lesson about one of the world’s greatest leaders and how he took on a mighty nation and made it change its ways for the better. It wasn’t easy but the significance of his success can rival Moses, Mandela and Gandhi (King’s role model).

Like Jesus, he only had a few followers but he took those “disciples” and made them become some of the best organizers the world has known. He came to Selma with a car load of followers and left, after three weeks, with thousands of those who were pure at heart. One third of them were White. The local police and state troopers were as racist as they could be. Thus, they marched out with the protection and supervision of the United States Army. This is what faith and courage can do. “Selma” accurately portrays this historical phenomenon.

Tears flowed from my eyes more than a few times during the movie. It brought back those memories and brilliantly showed the pain and suffering that was inflicted on children of God. You could feel their pain and recognize the devil in their adversaries. It brought back painful memories of an America that was not living up to its code. Never again will we allow that to return and our children, grandchildren must understand why. “Selma” is a great tutorial. At the end of the movie, the audience gave it healthy applause.

There has been some criticism of the movie’s portrayal of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. I don’t understand that because what I saw in the movie is the same person who we hear on LBJ’s own recorded phone calls. How could someone be such a “friend” to Dr. King and at the same time allow the vicious J. Edgar Hoover to harass him and his family? It is widely known that President Johnson would casually use the N-word. He would refer to the Civil Rights Act as the “Nigger Bill” while talking with southern elected officials. He was upset about having the Voting Rights Act pop up before his face right behind the Civil Rights Act. He thought that part of his work was done. All things would become better now. Dr. King finally made it clear to him that what good is a civil rights act without the right to vote.

Get your family and friends together and go see this classic piece. Then thank God that your children will never have to live through it.

 

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Website: www.nationalbcc.org Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

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