On Monday I went to the theater to watch “Selma”, the film that relives the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. “Selma” recreates the thousands of African American citizen activists who rushed toward violence seeking their right to vote. I too am an African American, old enough to remember that dangerous time in American history when Black citizens in the south could not vote. I was a distant witness far removed from that struggle, living in California with my first husband who was stationed at Travis Air Force Base.
In Doylestown, my family experienced no pain or struggle to vote. Raised by parents who reminded us that civic responsibility included voting, my brothers and sisters continue our parents’ legacy and vote every election cycle. I remember on several occasions walking to our polling place with Daddy and Mom. Back then they voted in the old Doylestown Borough School on Broad and Court Streets, a three-block walk from our home. I went into the booth with them straining my neck to look up and see their fingers flip the levers for their candidates of choice. Then I heard that distinctive “click-click-click” as the levers on those reliable Eisenhower era machines assured that their vote was cast and would be counted.
“Selma” is a powerful narrative showing Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) clashing with each other over their ideological strategy on how to accomplish voting rights for Blacks. There is also a brief appearance of Malcolm X, weeks before his assassination. After the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, the south abandoned him: Democrats below the Mason-Dixon Line switched to the Republican Party. The prejudice and hatred so prevalent in the 17th, 18th and 19th Century of during slavery returned, this time with 20th and 21st Century discrimination. The whips, clubs, dogs and water cannons have been replaced by electronic voting machines, redistricting, voter-photo ID laws, the termination of early voting and most damaging, court rulings that continue to chip away pieces of the original 1965 Voting Rights Act. The poor and disenfranchised citizens are now included with Blacks as losing the right to vote.
The song ‘Glory’ from “Selma” received the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards and is nominated in the Academy Awards Best Song category. Although “Selma” is nominated for Best Film by the Academy, Ava DuVernay is sorely missing from the Best Director category. She did a brilliant job pulling together the machinations that brought about the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. “Selma” is in the theaters just in time for the January 19, 2015 commemoration of Martin Luther King Day of Service. Thousands of Americans will honor his memory through volunteer projects in their communities. If no community service is scheduled near you, Get in your car or put on your walking shoes and make it to the nearest theater showing “Selma”.