Paramount Pictures released the movie Selma, by first-time director Ava DuVernay, on December 24. The movie tells the story of the social forces, political obstacles, as well as the strategic and tactical planning efforts that lead to the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in March 1965. In the months prior to the march, and with the support of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was engaged in a voting rights campaign in southern states to register blacks to vote. The ability of SNCC and SCLC to mobilize African-American volunteers, King’s political acumen, and the media’s coverage of the vitriolic reactions to segregation by local whites and the city’s police officers—including the events of March 7, 1965 which came to be known as “Bloody Sunday”—brought sufficient pressure to bear on President Lyndon Johnson to push for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The movie reminds the audience of the immense sacrifices African-American men, women, and children made to secure the right to vote. Enfranchisement, they believed, carried with it the promise of full participation in our democracy and legal recognition of their rights as citizens. Selma’s release, at the end of 2014, was timely. Our nation watched as a series of protests—some of which were marred by senseless acts violence and destruction of property—dominated the news following the grand jury decisions to not prosecute officers involved in the deaths of unarmed black men. The protests generated lively discourse at home and schools about race in our country, the relationship between police and the communities they serve, unconscious bias, the grand jury system, and our collective humanity. These conversations continue in the hallways of our Upper School among teachers and students, and through moderated talks with student groups like our Student Awareness Council.
Selma is a powerful and resonant reflection on our recent past, and an important reminder that the struggle for justice, equality, and for some mere visibility is long and arduous, but ultimately worthwhile; the arc of the moral universe does bend toward justice. In re-telling the story of the brave yet ordinary individuals who marched, sat, protested, and endured threats of economic insecurity and physical harm, Ms. DuVernay underscores the message that the power to change the course of history is within all of us. The past century is replete with examples of everyday folks using nonviolent, civil disobedience to raise our consciousness, galvanize our spirits, and call us to action, whether in Selma, Atlanta, Oxford, Kiev, Delhi, Beijing, St. Louis, or Paris.
This year, The Bush School will be joining thousands of Seattleites at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Rally and March Monday, January 19, to walk in support of human rights for all. We hope that you will join us—look for The Bush School banner, and those wearing Bush apparel on the northeast corner of 23rd and Jefferson—on Monday as we share in the tradition of Selma and honor Dr. King and the countless others who blazed the path on the long march to freedom.