“Selma” overlooks the role of Ralph Abernathy

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tags: LBJ, MLK, Selma



Ron Radosh is a PJ Media columnist and Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute. He is working on a book on the presidency of Warren G. Harding.

The nationwide release of the film Selma, which concentrates on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the  1965 Selma marches for the cause of African-American voting rights in the segregated South, has been received with much fanfare and enthusiastic accolades. It is likely to be short-listed for “Best Picture” from the voters in this year’s Academy Awards.

Questions have been raised, however, about the film’s historical accuracy in its depiction of LBJ’s relationship to Dr. King, and his role in securing the Voting Rights Act, first by Joseph A. Califano Jr., chief advisor for domestic affairs to Johnson,  and then by many others.

A major distortion that film critics did not notice was the absence of  Ralph Abernathy who as King’s chief lieutenant, was always by his side during the marches. King said that he “was the best friend I have in the world.” Dr. Abernathy travelled  together, often sharing the same hotel rooms, jail cells, and leisure times with their wives, children, family, and friends. They fought together against segregation and discrimination, helped to establish new legislation, and tried to instill a new sense of pride, dignity, and self-worth in African Americans.

Abernathy suffered bombings, beatings by southern policemen and State Troopers, 44 arrests, and daily death threats against his life and those of his wife and children. His family’s land and automobile were confiscated and he had to re-purchase his automobile at a public auction. Some of his colleagues and some volunteers in the civil rights movement who worked with him were murdered.

Why, then, is Abernathy not shown at King’s side during the marches in Selma?  Instead, he has been  removed in much the same way they did it in Stalin’s Soviet Union, where photos of purged leaders who stood next to Stalin were erased and encyclopedia entries about them taken out of new editions....




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