From Ferguson to Cleveland to New York City, it has been a difficult few months in our country’s ongoing struggle with race. As the conversations, protests, and legal battles continue, Hollywood has entered the discussion with a powerful movie centered on Dr. Martin Luther King and the events that took place in Selma, Alabama in 1965.
Selma masterfully portrays historical attitudes and situations existing in much of the South, for which Selma was simply a sad but typical example. The movie also provides its viewers with a ‘behind-the-curtain’ look at the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement: Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Diane Nash, and of course Coretta King who stood by her husband faithfully, despite fear and marital struggles.
Throughout the movie we also see the commitment of untold and unnamed thousands who had the courage to face severe repercussions to stand for something that was so painfully and obviously right. The plot of Selma is centered on the Civil Rights legislation that legally allowed full integration including voting rights.
Through technicalities, lack of enforcement, and sheer illegalities Southern municipalities had devised ways to keep blacks from registering to vote. The consequences of this were not only unjust but formed a powerful grip on the status quo. Without the ability to register to vote, Blacks could not vote out corrupt politicians or serve on juries which systematically failed to prosecute whites who had committed crimes against Blacks including the deadly succession of bombings of Black churches.
While I enjoyed the movie and highly recommend it to others, it was a hard movie to watch. Selma not only presented an historical biopic for the mind, but as good art always does, it compellingly and painfully reached the heart with the hurt of racism.
As a father of three daughters (two are bi-racial and one is full African-American) my heart sank when the bombing of the Birmingham church and the senseless killing of those six young girls was depicted. As a father of one son (who is bi-racial) my heart was saddened and angered over the portrayal of Jimmy Lee Jackson’s unwarranted and undeserved death at the hands of racist policeman.
The other side of the coin, however, is that Selma is inspiring, not in a sentimental way but in a real and biblically courageous way. To look at evil in the face and call it evil when the consequences will most surely be death is the epitome of courage. The courage of Dr. King and the others with him to make speeches, to march, to sit-in, to boycott, to go to jail, to always turn the other cheek, to never respond to violence with more violence is a king of courage rarely seen.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak and not to act is to act.” Every generation has its own God-given opportunities for courage and faithfulness. The movie Selma and the heroes of the Civil Rights movement biblically encourage us to stand and speak for righteousness wherever we are.
Recommended Resources: – Selma review by Dr. John Piper www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/selma
Books: Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper
When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus – Alan Cross
United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity – Trillia Newbell
Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development – Anthony Bradley