Selma and the Civil Rights Movement

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Throughout American history, African-Americans have constantly struggled with the problems of racism and discrimination. Since slavery many years ago, African Americans have always been treated as inferior by caucasian men. Even today, racism continues to be a huge problem in American society. Selma, a film directed by Ava DuVernay, retells the events surrounding the march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama. Led by Martin Luther King Jr., African-Americans along with civil rights activists of various races marched to protest African Americans being denied their right to vote.

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In Selma, Ava DuVernay shows that in the events leading up to the march to Montgomery, the white characters’ hunger for power caused an uphill battle for African-Americans in their fight for rights. The hunger for power caused conflict between the person with power and the person without.

In 1965, after the end of segregation, Dr. Martin Luther King received a Nobel Prize amidst the still heated south of the USA, with the then-recent church bombing that claimed five little girls’ lives. Dr. King travels to the White House to implore the president to pass a voting rights bill, while a weary LBJ — who had signed the Civil Rights Act just a year before — asks King to be patient, and support his War on Poverty in the meantime. Dr. King then goes to Selma, Alabama where blacks are of more than fifty percent of the population but are still restricted from voting. Dr. King says that in order to gain Johnson’s attention, then there must be some kind of uproar. In order to do this Dr. King among other African Americans stands in front of the county registration, which ends in everyone’s arrests. When Dr. King gets out of jail and is in Selma, an unofficial gathering happens at night that ends in violence as troopers disperse the crowds. A boy, Jimmy Lee Jackson, is killed in that incident. Soon the group decides to have a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. 

The march ends in violence where the participants are bludgeoned and beaten and the images are captured on TV and in newspapers. Dr. King did not walk with them as it was expected to end in violence as a Johnson aide told them. He calls out to all people, blacks, and whites to join the next march. Many people did come to join, even whites, and most of the clergy. But when the march actually begins, despite Johnson’s attempt to make a deal with Dr. King, the troopers withdraw from their guard, and Dr. King backs down from his march. That night a clergy member who participated in the march is beaten and killed. On the 15th of March, Johnson addressed Congress, identifying himself with the demonstrators in Selma in a televised address: “Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome” (Johnson, “Special Message”). The following day Selma demonstrators submitted a detailed march plan to Judge Johnson, who approved the demonstration and enjoined Governor Wallace and local law enforcement from harassing or threatening marchers. On 17h ofMarch Johnson submitted voting rights legislation to Congress, and the court grants the legality for the march. At last President Johnson sends Congress a bill to end the voting restrictions.

Like Selma, Derrick Bell’s “Faces at the Bottom of the Well” Prompt The Permanence of Racism; tackles the permanence of racism in the United States. In his view, our society believes that equality for blacks will be found “just around the corner” as long as the country continues to progress. He argues that this myth is “disabling” and “dangerous”. It denies the truth that racism is not a passing phase but rather a permanent feature of American life. The visible progressions that the country is taking away from racism are not actually progress, but rather “occasional short-­?lived judicial or legislative victories that serve to obscure the underlying truth even more.”. He claims, “Despite undeniable progress for many, no African Americans are insulated from incidents of racial discrimination. Our careers, even our lives, are threatened because of our color.” (Bell 3). Bell challenges readers to not be delusional and to face the race matters head-on.

As I think about the life of Dr. King and, his fight, it makes me reflect closely on my own life and what I see around me. Every day, I encounter individuals who need someone to listen to them and help them navigate the challenges of school, home life, and societal pressures. I myself often times have questions about what I see in the news; confused about how and why Africans Americans are murdered at the hands of police. While our battles look different in 2020, there is definitely still fighting to be done.

The fact is that Americans have grown comfortable with racism resting just beneath the surface of our politics — to be activated whenever a politician or a community needs it, or some racist incident exhumed it only for us to bury it once again. What has resulted is an illusion that blinds us to what was actually happening right in front of our noses and in our heads — we believed that our country had become less racist because we were not as brazen as we once were.

Often times African Americans are denied rights in order to provide more opportunities and resources for the whites. Derrick Bell’s “Faces at the Bottom of the Well” concludes with the notion that reading these stories should be a challenge to the reader. He understands it will be difficult to embrace his idea that racism is a permanent component of American life. “Mesmerized by racial equality syndrome” it requires more critical thought for whites to understand (Bell 13). However, his tales help to stimulate the thought for this kind of discussion.

Asserting that racism is an enduring and malignant feature of American life is ultimately liberating – it spurs me to keep striving and pushing for social change. Because as Bell notes, for Black Americans, our story is “less of success than of survival through an unremitting struggle that leaves no room for giving up.” We have come this far because of a generation of activists who lived through the Freedom Rides, the march on Selma and the traumas and triumphs of the Civil Rights Movement.

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Selma and the Civil Rights Movement. (2022, Apr 29). Retrieved from