Yesterday, I saw Selma. The new movie chronicles the three months preceding the historic march from Selma to Montgomery to secure equal voting rights for African-Americans. The movie is great! Let’s get that over with. Some people might mistake it for a documentary but it’s not. It’s a scripted movie starring David Oyelowo as Dr. King.
I was particularly interested in the movie because I had visited Selma, AL, in September as part of my Southeastern National Park project. Selma to Montgomery Historic TraiI became an NPS unit in 1996. I spent a day in Selma and drove US 80 to Montgomery.
Now about the movie. The movie chose to spend most of its time before the actual, successful march, discussing the problems and concerns of the march and lack of rights. It showed the brutality of the Alabama sheriff and state police.
Learn how to pronounce Oyelowo, the name of the British actor who played King because you’ll see a lot of him on the screen. In fact, you already have. He played the militant son in The Butler and a cocky pilot in Red Tails, about the Tuskegee Airmen during WWII.
All four leads were great and British. Tom Wilkinson plays President Johnson who argues with Dr. King. It’s a long way from The Full Monty, a musical about male strippers. Also terrific is Oprah Winfrey who plays a poor nursing aide who is determined to vote.
The movie didn’t emphasize a couple of things. First, Pres. Johnson called out the National Guards to ensure the safety of the marchers. This was implied but not said. They also didn’t spend enough time on the practicalities of organizing hundreds of marchers. Where would they stay every night? What about the tents, food and privies? They didn’t even think about this the first two tries at marching. Finally, the third time, they obtained buses to take supplies and food to the marchers. They also found sympathetic landowners who would let them camp on their land.
Could we walk from Selma to Montgomery today?
In March, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the march. There will be plenty of commemorations and gatherings, but no one is talking about recreating the 54-mile march itself. Today, the logistics of walking for four days would be overwhelming. Food, water, safety, first aid, law enforcement, enough privies would all have to be dealt with by private companies. It could cost quite a bundle.
And that’s not even considering the problems of walking on a US highway.