In 1964 the Civl Rights Act was passed, yet in the Democratic controlled south, African Americans were systematically deigned the vote though archaic voter registration laws and despicable voter intimidation. It is in the small town of Selma, Alabama that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is called in to make a stand. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his nonviolent movement would be met with some of the most severe opposition and hate the world had seen, as millions around the world would watch it play out on their television screens. This is the story of Selma.
Triumph of Faith
One of the best parts of the story is the way it highlights the movement being lead and supported by those of faith. It was pastors, priests, nuns and those of faith that showed up to support King in his call for reinforcements. Some of these men and women would even pay for this with their lives. Everyone who showed up lived out Christ’s words, “No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends”. All of these men and women, fighting for the equality and dignity of every human being to vote and determine their own fate though their constitutional rights as Americans.
There is a beautiful scene where King is in prison and is struggling to see the endgame, worried about so many things and Ralph Abernathy speaks the truth of Jesus, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” It is another representation of the importance faith played in these people’s lives. It drove them, motivated them and informed everything they did in their fight for their rights.
The Declaration of Independence established so beautifully, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” King and his followers take this seriously. Driven by their belief in God and the rights of all men and women, created in God’s image to be treated with equality and dignity. If there is no belief in men and women as special, made by God to be unique, it becomes easy to dehumanize, treating people as deserving less than is their right. The leaders of the Civil Rights movement fight against the bigotry and hate of those that cowardly misused faith to oppress others, using Lincoln’s words, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” as motivation that one day the government would truly be for all.
Selma is an important film, it may be one of the most important films in years, it needs to be seen. What is lamentable is the reminder of just how far we have to go in this area. There are so many places in this country and around the world where bigotry and prejudice reign. The film does such a good job at showing how abhorrent humans can be to one another and yet how virtuous we can be when driven by faith in something bigger than ourselves. What Schindler’s List did for the Holocaust, Selma does for the Civil Rights movement. We cannot forget where we have been, if we do, we will forget just how far we have to go.