10 Things You Should Know About Selma Before You See the Film

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tags: LBJ, MLK, Selma, Selma March



Emilye Crosby is a professor of history and coordinator of Black Studies at SUNY Geneseo. She is the author of A Little Taste of Freedom (University of North Carolina Press, 2005) and editor of Civil Rights History from the Ground Up (University of Georgia Press, 2011). She is currently a fellow at the National Humanities Center where she is working on a history of women and gender in SNCC. Read more. This article is part of the Zinn Education Project If We Knew Our History series.

In this 50th anniversary year of the Selma-to-Montgomery March and the Voting Rights Act it helped inspire, national media will focus on the iconic images of "Bloody Sunday," the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the interracial marchers, and President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act. This version of history, emphasizing a top-down narrative and isolated events, reinforces the master narrativethat civil rights activists describe as "Rosa sat down, Martin stood up, and the white folks came south to save the day."

But there is a "people's history" of Selma that we all can learn from—one that is needed especially now. The exclusion of Blacks and other people of color from voting is still a live issue. Sheriff's deputies may no longer be beating people to keep them from registering to vote, but in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby v. Holder that the Justice Department may no longer evaluate laws passed in the former Confederacy for racial bias. And as a new movement emerges, insisting that Black Lives Matter, young people can draw inspiration and wisdom from the courage, imagination, and accomplishments of activists who went before.

Here are 10 points to keep in mind about Selma's civil rights history.

1. The Selma voting rights campaign started long before the modern Civil Rights Movement.

Mrs. Amelia Boynton Robinson, her husband Samuel William Boynton, and other African American activists founded the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) in the 1930s. The DCVL became the base for a group of activists who pursued voting rights and economic independence.

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