Tag Archives: martin luther king

‘Selma’ is a historic film that throbs with today

To say Ava DuVernay’s Selma feels relevant is a mammoth understatement. It’s altogether animated, propelled and enlivened by its contemporary urgency. Selma is a history lesson that throbs with today.

DuVernay, a former publicist with two low-budget dramas to her name, dramatizes the events around the 1965 Civil Rights march through Alabama, from Selma to Montgomery, with a straightness of purpose befitting the famous protest’s direct path.

Hollywood often doesn’t nail this kind of historical drama, and such films frequently sag under the weight of their intentions. But DuVernay, working from a script by Paul Webb, stays away from the Martin Luther King Jr. biopic this might have been. Eluding myth-making, she instead goes for a focused realism. Selma captures a movement, from the grassroots to the White House, and the many it takes to move history.

Selma would pair well with Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, another atmospheric telling of history that cast an expansive gaze at the not-always-pretty grunt work that enabled the world to change.

Early in the film, King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference tries to check into a Selma hotel, and a white man extends his hand only to clock King in the jaw. “This place,” says one of King’s cohorts, “is perfect.”

This is the Deep South after 1964’s landmark Civil Rights Act, but when poll taxes, vouchers and the like kept black people away from the ballot box. In an early scene, an elderly hospice nurse named Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) tries to register to vote, only be to be warned of “startin’ a fuss.” She’s told to name Alabama’s 67 judges.

King’s group arrives in Selma having just waged an unsuccessful campaign in Albany, Georgia, where the police avoided the kind of confrontations that would draw headlines. The toxic discrimination of Selma, though, offers King the “drama” he requires to elevate the cause to front pages. Selma Sheriff Jim Clark (Stan Houston) and Alabama Governor George Wallace (an excellent Tim Roth) supply the racist brutality that plays right into King’s mission.

A central theater of Selma isn’t just the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where marchers were brutally beaten by baton-wielding police — it’s in the White House. King strategy is trying to pressure President Lyndon Johnson into acting on voting restrictions. LBJ, played with appropriate Texan cajoling by Tom Wilkinson, wants to focus on poverty with his Great Society. (White House tapes suggest a more collaborative LBJ than shown in the film.)

It’s the political front of a battle gathering in Selma, where activists debate, plot and rally support. There’s argument over tactics: Compromise is an essential part of the movement seen in Selma.

Throughout, the film is charted by FBI field reports that tracked King’s activities. (Dylan Backer plays J. Edgar Hoover, sneering that he’ll “dismantle” King’s family.) The subtitles are a constant, ominous reminder of the movement’s sizable foes and the nation’s sometimes shameful allegiances.

King is seen both intimately with his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) and publicly from the pulpit, where Oyelow’s King is fullest. He’s not a savior, but a wise man exercising the reaches of his power to the best of his ability. As spectacular as Oyelow’s humanizing performance is, Selma is not the MLK show. King is more a savvy operator, gathering together the strong forces around him.

Like few movies, “Selma” is peopled, teaming with the individuals that comprise a mass. By the time the protestors have assembled on the bridge for the 50 mile march, DuVernay has put us among them, from the future Congressman John Lewis (Stephan James) to the Reverend Hosea Williams (the impeccable Wendell Pierce, whose anxious eyes look at the amassed troopers with an unforgettable mix of fear and bravery).

Particularly affecting is Keith Stanfield’s Jimmie Lee Jackson, the 26-year-old who was shot by a trooper ahead of the march. It’s a death — an unarmed black man — that telescopes the 50 years between then and now with tragic immediacy.

There’s a stirring freshness to the cinema of Selma, and it’s not just because of Bradford Young’s rich, moody photography. The 1978 TV miniseries “King” is the only real attempt to grapple with MLK. There are shamefully few precedents of civil rights tales in Hollywood to Selma. A change is gonna come.

Selma, a Paramount Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language.” Running time: 127 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

President Obama issues LGBT Pride proclamation

President Barack Obama on May 31 issued a proclamation declaring June LGBT Pride Month. The president has made a tradition of issuing Pride proclamations.

The following is the proclamation:

For more than two centuries, our Nation has struggled to transform the ideals of liberty and equality from founding promise into lasting reality. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans and their allies have been hard at work on the next great chapter of that history — from the patrons of The Stonewall Inn who sparked a movement to service members who can finally be honest about who they love to brave young people who come out and speak out every day.

This year, we celebrate LGBT Pride Month at a moment of great hope and progress, recognizing that more needs to be done. Support for LGBT equality is growing, led by a generation which understands that, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In the past year, for the first time, voters in multiple States affirmed marriage equality for same-sex couples. State and local governments have taken important steps to provide much-needed protections for transgender Americans.

My Administration is a proud partner in the journey toward LGBT equality. We extended hate crimes protections to include attacks based on sexual orientation or gender identity and repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” We lifted the HIV entry ban and ensured hospital visitation rights for LGBT patients.

Together, we have investigated and addressed pervasive bullying faced by LGBT students, prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Federal housing, and extended benefits for same-sex domestic partners. Earlier this year, I signed a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in the implementation of any VAWA-funded program. And because LGBT rights are human rights, my Administration is implementing the first-ever Federal strategy to advance equality for LGBT people around the world.

We have witnessed real and lasting change, but our work is not complete. I continue to support a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, as well as the Respect for Marriage Act. My Administration continues to implement the Affordable Care Act, which beginning in 2014, prohibits insurers from denying coverage to consumers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which addresses the disparate impact of the HIV epidemic among certain LGBT sub-communities. We have a long way to go, but if we continue on this path together, I am confident that one day soon, from coast to coast, all of our young people will look to the future with the same sense of promise and possibility. I am confident because I have seen the talent, passion, and commitment of LGBT advocates and their allies, and I know that when voices are joined in common purpose, they cannot be stopped.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2013 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists, and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.

Barack Obama

Anti-Defamation League imagines world without hate in new video

The Anti-Defamation League is launching a major public awareness initiative with an 80-second public service video that imagines the contributions that victims of high-profile hate crimes might have made to society had their lives not been brutally cut short by racism, homophobia or anti-Semitism.

Set to John Lennon’s “Imagine,” the video pays tribute to the lives of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., hate crime victims Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr., Holocaust-era diarist Anne Frank, former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and slain Journalist Daniel Pearl and others by imagining their impact on society had they survived into the present day.

Abraham H. Foxman, ADL’s national director and a Holocaust survivor, said in a news release, “In our work over the last 100 years, and particularly in the aftermath of the Holocaust and other incidents of hate, we have always asked the question, ‘What if?’ ‘What if’ America had been a more tolerant and welcoming society?  ‘What if’ more people had stood up to defy Hitler?  What kind of world could we imagine for our children and grandchildren if more people stood up to say ‘no’ to racism, bigotry, prejudice and anti-Semitism?”

He continued, “As we look toward the future, we are hopeful that the dream of a world without hate will become a reality, as more and more individuals join ADL as allies in building a world where hate is not fostered, and where diversity is embraced as a cherished strength.”

The Imagine a World Without Hate campaign was conceived by ADL in partnership with the creative team at Publicis Kaplan Thaler in honor of the 100th anniversary of the organization’s founding in 1913.

Barbara B. Balser, ADL centennial chair, stated, “As we work toward securing a world that is more respectful and free of prejudice, we remember those who lost their lives as a consequence of hatred, terrorism, extremism and genocide.  We pay tribute to these great individuals and to the loved ones who carry on their legacies, as we imagine how much more they could have contributed to our society and our world if only they had survived.”

The public service video may be viewed at http://www.wisconsingazette.com/news/.

Barber shop was hub of civil rights activity

The Barber Shop is a small, four-wall establishment with few identifying features. There is no classic red-and-white-striped barber pole nor is there the familiar cursive writing begging customers to enter.

But the bare-bones building was during the 1950s and 60s much more than a stop for a hot towel shave and a buzz cut.

It was a gathering place for blacks to register to vote and for leaders of the Greenwood African-American community, where they could freely discuss strategy and plans under the guidance of the barber shop’s owner, the Rev. Aaron Johnson.

When Carl Hodo purchased a barber shop in south Greenwood, he kept things pretty much the same as they were before he owned it, down to the name.

“It’s just called the Barber Shop. They’ve always called it the Barber Shop. It’s Mr. Johnson’s barber shop,” Hodo said, trying to recall the exact date that he purchased the one-story, anonymous-looking building.

Johnson was also pastor of the East Percy Street Christian Church. He was the first clergyman in Greenwood to open his church’s doors to civil rights activists, a dangerous move that earned him life-threatening consequences. Johnson has since passed away, but in an interview with The New York Times in 1998 he said that he received frequent telephone threats, got chased off of highways by speeding cars and had his windows broken into.

East Percy Street Church, which still stands proudly a few blocks over from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, hosted civil rights activist Medgar Evers.

“Evers’ last trip to Greenwood was in that church in February 1963,” said state Sen. David Jordan, who was himself often present at both barber shop and church meetings.

Evers’ presence at the church was made more significant by the fact that the 37-year-old activist was assassinated in June the same year in the driveway of his Jackson home. Byron De La Beckwith was ultimately convicted of the crime in 1994 and died in prison.

Jordan, who also is a member of the Greenwood City Council, said that the groups that met in Johnson’s barber shop and at East Percy Street Church talked about the most effective ways to achieve the right to vote, specifically through voter registration.

“We talked about freedom. At that time we didn’t have any rights at all,” said Jordan.

“Only 40 percent of African Americans in Greenwood were registered to vote,” he explained. “Our goal was to get people registered to vote. After the Voting Rights Act, we put federal registers all over the county to make sure people registered.”

Johnson was a crucial instigator of the goal to get people registered. In 1962, three years before the Voting Rights Act was passed, Johnson brought small groups of black voters to the courthouse to register to vote. He himself tried to register several times, but each time he did he was told that he had failed to accurately interpret a section of the Mississippi Constitution.

Jordan met Johnson when the two were in high school. They worked together at a box factory during the Korean War, and they became lifelong friends.

“That’s who cut my hair. He was my barber,” said Jordan.

Johnson’s civil rights activism continued long after the passage of the Voting Rights Act. The day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, Johnson dissuaded young protesters from heading downtown to air their grievances, understanding the threat for violence.

“He stopped the people from going downtown the day after Dr. King was assassinated. He saved some lives that day,” said Jordan.

Johnson’ legacy holds a solid place, even for those who never heard him preach. He was known not just as a civil rights activist and preacher, but also as a sharp barber.

John Potts, a fellow barber in Greenwood, said that that’s how he always knew him.

“He was a nice, honest barber,” he said.