“Selma” deserves the Glory

Our society has distorted who we are, from slavery to the reconstruction, to the precipice at which we now stand. We have seen powerful white men rule the world while offering poor white men a vicious lie as placation” –  The fictionalized Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 2014 Movie “Selma”

And when the poor white man’s children wail with a hunger that cannot be satisfied, he feeds them that same vicious lie. A lie whispering to them that regardless of their lot in life, they can at least be triumphant in the knowledge that their whiteness makes them superior to blackness.”

troopers-attacked-the-crowd-with-clubs-and-tear-gas I was born in 1959, the height of the baby boom in Canada.  My first memory that can be dated is watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.  I would have been four and a-half.

I grew up with flower children, hippies, peaceniks, Laugh-In, the Smothers Brothers, and until it turned sour (a combination of growing up, and the world turning) it seemed like everything was possible.  We would stop all wars, and live in peace and equality.

I remember when Robert Kennedy was shot, because my grade three teacher was very very upset. It was strange to see adults upset that way.  At home, my mom said it was sad because it happened to his brother too.  How awful!

But before things changed, when my core values were being forged, I believed.  I must have been absorbing the zeitgeist of an incredible optimistic philosophy of life.

My mother was non-prejudiced, not so much out of emotion, but because she was so logical, sometimes to the point of frustration.  I turned to her for explanations of the violence on the news.  I remember her explaining George Wallace to me by name.  I remember when he was shot (but not killed) a few years later, there were harumphing nods from the adults, a good-riddance-to-bad-rubbish snort of derision.

George Wallace

George Wallace

The racists portrayed in the film still exist.  They may not be as visible, but they are certainly vocal.  FOX News (not a news show, an opinion-entertainment imbroglio) caters to those who NEED to hear a certain message, NEED to be validated as right first and foremost (we’ll find an explanation later).

“I am a good person, therefore I am not a racist.” is how that line of thinking goes.  So everything I think and feel must be rational and based in fact, so let’s go find the “facts” that fit.

I imagine an average FOX News groupie to be white, lower-middle-class or working-poor, largely uneducated, probably untraveled.  They see a situation in which they are identified with the “wrong” side, and NEED to find the reasons their side is “right”.

Once FOX News provides their factoids you can read them repeated ad nauseum on internet comment boards.  A copy/paste mentality.  If you disagree using a cogent, well-thought out, well-researched argument, you are accused of “liberal media bias”, regardless of the sources you quote.

It is said that conservatism is based on fear – fear of what you might lose, whereas liberalism is based on hope – the hope of better things.  It is said that a liberal becomes a conservative once he owns stuff (fear you might lose your stuff). I guess I am still a liberal because I never earned enough money to get a lot of stuff.  But I am proud of my hippie values – my position as a bleeding-heart-liberal-socialist-eco-feminist.  When I suggested worldwide equality to a boss I once had, he completely disagreed. “What good is being rich if there are no poor people?” he said to my face. (The company paid most employees as little as possible, and skirted as many laws as they could get away with.)

From left, Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, MLK, Whitney Young and President LBJ in a meeting at the White House in 1964. (Photo: Photo: AP file photo)

From left, Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, MLK, Whitney Young and President LBJ in a meeting at the White House in 1964.
(Photo: AP file photo)

Many historical films take artistic liberty with the facts, due to time/story constraints.  If the essence of the story is true, I have no problem with it. I have a problem with “Argo”, because I am a Canadian, and that is NOT the way it went down.

“American Sniper” Chris Kyle embellished and lied about his pre-Iraq life, the film invented an Iraqi nemesis for dramatic effect.  Alan Turing did not invent his machine solo (“The Imitation Game”), and while there is every evidence that John du Pont behaved improperly in many ways, he did not have a homosexual relationship at all with Mark Schultz (implied in “Foxcatcher” – which would have been wrong because of power dynamics, not because of homosexuality).

Many films about black issues take a white perspective.  But, the whole point is they did it themselves, they strategized, they planned, they acted, they risked their lives. To insert a white hero, when there was none (white supporters, yes – but the leadership was black) would have been inappropriate.

A key point for paranoid white Americans to latch onto is the portrayal of LBJ in “Selma”.  LBJ, they cry, was the Negro’s best friend!!  He did indeed pass the civil rights legislation in question, and even if he felt that way personally, politically he knew even the President of the USA didn’t have any moral authority to sway the public.  He fully dropped that back into MLK’s lap. The film certainly got the administration’s paranoia about MLK correct (the FBI spying transcripts are superbly superimposed on key scenes in the film).

The week before MLKs birthday I was watching some PBS documentaries about him, and it was JFK (American hero!) that was always stonewalling the movement, asking them to wait.  It would have been laborious to include both presidents in the timeline of the movie (imagine the backlash if they had used JFK), but the point is MLK had been up against it for years.  Even the politicians on his side expected them to be patient and wait, or to do all the work and take all the risks themselves.

Here are excerpts from the transcripts of MLK and LBJ:

President Johnson: And number two, I think that we don’t want special privilege for anybody. We want equality for all, and we can stand on that principle. But I think that you can contribute a great deal by getting your leaders and you yourself, taking very simple examples of discrimination where a man’s got to memorize [Henry Wadsworth] Longfellow or whether he’s got to quote the first 10 Amendments or he’s got to tell you what amendment 15 and 16 and 17 is, and then ask them if they know and show what happens. And some people don’t have to do that. But when a Negro comes in, he’s got to do it. And we can just repeat and repeat and repeat. I don’t want to follow [Adolph] Hitler, but he had a–he had a[n] idea–

King: Yeah.

President Johnson: –that if you just take a simple thing and repeat it often enough, even if it wasn’t true, why, people accept it. Well, now, this is true, and if you can find the worst condition that you run into in Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana, or South Carolina, where–well, I think one of the worst I ever heard of is the president of the school at Tuskegee or the head of the government department there or something being denied the right to a cast a vote. And if you just take that one illustration and get it on radio and get it on television and get it in the pulpits, get it in the meetings, get it every place you can, pretty soon the fellow that didn’t do anything but follow–drive a tractor, he’s say, “Well, that’s not right. That’s not fair.”

President Johnson: Well, we talked about it [for] three years, you know. [Unclear comment by King] But we just did something about it. So that’s what we got to do now, and you get in there and help us.

King: Well, I certainly will, and you know you can always count on that.

President Johnson: Thank you so much.

King: All right. God bless you. Thank you, Mr. President.

President Johnson: Bye. Bye.

http://millercenter.org/presidentialrecordings/lbj-wh6501.04-6736

John Legend, left, and Common pose in the press room with the award for best original song “Glory” in a film for “Selma” at the 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

John Legend, left, and Common pose in the press room with the award for best original song “Glory” in a film for “Selma” at the 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

And the song, Oh the song!!!!!!  Like a hymn, like a spiritual, like a modern gospel song.

Similar to when I watched the “Schindler’s List” final scene with the actual survivors, I cried a lot at the end of “Selma”.  Here is the actual footage (Harry Belafonte! Sammy Davis Jr.!) interspersed with the credits – and many of these real people are still alive and active in American politics today!  Andrew Young, John Lewis.

The murders in the film were of real people: Jimmie Lee Jackson (the actor reminds me of a college student I speak to on the bus – a dynamic young man with all the abilities and energy possible to change the world), James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister who had come from Massachusetts to join the protest, Viola Liuzzo, a housewife from Michigan who had come to Alabama to volunteer.

It reminds me of the song “Biko” by Peter Gabriel.  The chorus of “Yehla Moya” (in Xhosa) means “Descend, O Spirit”.  I always thought he was singing “Kill the martyr”.

You can blow out a candle

But you can’t blow out a fire

Once the flames begin to catch

The wind will blow it higher

Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko

Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja

The man is dead

And the eyes of the world are

watching now

watching now

lyrics “Biko” 1980

Please seek out the song “Glory” by John Legend and Common and remember this in particular: “Now we right the wrongs in history. No one can win the war individually. It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy.

One day, when the glory comes
It will be ours, it will be ours
Oh, one day, when the war is won
We will be sure, we will be sure
Oh, glory, glory
Oh, glory, glory

Hands to the Heavens, no man, no weapon
Formed against, yes glory is destined
Every day women and men become legends
Sins that go against our skin become blessings
The movement is a rhythm to us
Freedom is like religion to us
Justice is juxtaposition in us
Justice for all just ain’t specific enough
One son died, his spirit is revisitin’ us
Truant livin’ livin’ in us, 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 we woman and man up
They say, “Stay down” and we stand up
Shots, we on the ground, the camera panned up
King pointed to the mountain top and we ran up

One day, when the glory comes
It will be ours, it will be ours
Oh, one day, when the war is won
We will be sure, we will be sure
Oh, glory, glory
Oh, glory, glory glory

Now the war is not over
Victory isn’t won
And we’ll fight on to the finish
Then when it’s all done
We’ll cry glory, oh glory
We’ll cry glory, oh glory

Selma’s now for every man, woman and child
Even Jesus got his crown in front of a crowd
They marched with the torch, we gon’ run with it now
Never look back, we done gone hundreds of miles
From dark roads he rose, to become a hero
Facin’ the league of justice, his power was the people
Enemy is lethal, a king became regal
Saw the face of Jim Crow under a bald eagle
The biggest weapon is to stay peaceful
We sing, our music is the cuts that we bleed through
Somewhere in the dream we had an epiphany
Now we right the wrongs in history
No one can win the war individually
It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy
Welcome to the story we call victory
Comin’ of the Lord, my eyes have seen the glory

One day, when the glory comes
It will be ours, it will be ours
Oh, one day, when the war is won
We will be sure, we will be sure
Oh, glory, glory
Oh, glory, glory glory

When the war is done, when it’s all said and done
We’ll cry glory, oh glory

lyrics “Glory” 2014

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