Selma: the movie and the movement, then and now

Screen shot from Selma Movie Glory lyrics video -

Screen shot from Selma Movie Glory lyrics video, showing marchers on Edmund Pettus Bridge  –

Selma, the movie, makes a powerful and inspiring call to action. Without glossing over divisions in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Selma focuses on courage and commitment, and connects the movement then to the movement now.

Glory, the anthem at the end of the movie by John Legend and Common, makes the connection explicit:

Resistance is us:
That’s why Rosa sat on the bus;
That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up;
When it go down, woman and man up;
They say stay down, and we stand up.

I came home from seeing Selma to find an Open Letter from African American Presidents and Deans in Theological Education to presidents and deans of theological schools in the United States. The letter opened by saying that, “the socio-economic and political realities that led to the establishment of SNCC at Shaw University 54 years ago are actually eclipsed by the realities of this day,” and calling on “citizens of good conscience to once again rise up and rally to the cry for freedom and justice for all.”

The theologians’ passionate cry could have been voiced by Dr. King in Selma, or by John Lewis, Hosea Williams, Diane Nash, Annie Lee Cooper or any of the other heroes of Selma:

“How can Americans acquiesce, remain silent, passive and neutral as African-American men and women are slain in the streets of Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland and beyond? How can people of conscience be still when African-Americans quake with fear to walk without harm in their own cities and towns?”

Fifty years after Selma, we are called to a new civil rights movement, called by theologians and preachers, by earnest organizers, by anguished parents, by young people in the streets.

“It take the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy.” [Glory lyric]

The whole story of Selma reaches back to the voter registration efforts begun by the Dallas County Voters League in the 1950s and the SNCC organizing of the early 1960s, both of which preceded the arrival of the SCLC and Dr. King. For powerful stories and details of the history, read the accounts in John Lewis’s memoir, Walking With the Wind, and in the second two books of Taylor Branch’s trilogy chronicling the King years. For a shorter, but still very detailed story, read the Wikipedia entry on the Selma to Montgomery marches.

Then go out into the streets and the schools and the voting booths and help to make some history.

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