We perish because we know not… #TLENews
The movie “Selma” is a combination of historical inaccuracies, writer Paul Webb’s imaginations and director Ava Duvernay’s fallacious re-creations.
On Dec. 22, with a number of friends, one of whom had participated in the 1965 marches, I attended a showing in Atlanta. Mayor George Evans rightly has cautioned people to remember that the movie is “just a movie and not a documentary.”
After viewing the movie, my friend who had been in the marches asked incredulously, “Where did they get their information?” From a dramatic beginning featuring the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham on Sept. 15, 1963, which leaves the impression the bombing took place in Selma, to the closing credits after the movie which lists the mayor of Selma as “Mayor Robert Evans”, the movie demonstrates repeatedly that it is not a documentary. A few examples:
* The movie shows Jimmie Lee Jackson, his mother and grandfather, after a confrontation with state troopers, seated in a restaurant, menus in hand. Troopers burst into the cafe, a melee ensues and Jackson is shot dead.
The next scene is King talking to Jackson’s grandfather, Cager Lee, at the Dallas County coroner’s office, presumably where Jackson’s body is, and then King preaching at the funeral service for Jackson at Brown Chapel Church.
Jackson was shot in Marion, not Selma, on Feb. 18, 1965, and following complications died eight days later at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma. There was no Dallas County coroner’s office and morgue. King did visit Jackson at Good Samaritan and did preach Jackson’s funeral.
* The movie depicts Annie Lee Cooper attempting to register to vote at the Dallas County courthouse. A single white registrar is behind a glass enclosure and denies her application when she is unable to name the probate judges for each of Alabama’s 67 counties. This is after she is able to recite the preamble to the Constitution and indicate that there are 67 counties in Alabama.
Shortly, there is a confrontation between citizens attempting to register and Sheriff Jim Clark. The citizens are all pictured kneeling in what would be Lauderdale Street when Clark wades into the middle of them, billy club in hand.
While Cooper and hundreds of other citizens were not permitted to register to vote, it was not by a single white registrar encased behind glass in an imaginary courthouse. The confrontation between Cooper and Clark did not take place amid kneeling citizens being beaten in the middle of a street. There are numerous pictures in the Old Depot Museum in Selma showing citizens lined up on the sidewalk waiting to go into the courthouse to register.
* In the movie, Boston Unitarian minister James Reeb is beaten to death on the night of March 9, 1965, (the day of the turn around march) after leaving a well-lit diner.
Reeb and his fellow Unitarian ministers, Clark Olson and Orloff Miller, were passing by the Silver Moon Café when they were attacked. Reeb was taken first to Burwell Infirmity and then transported to Birmingham. On the way, Ace’s ambulance had a flat tire, delaying needed surgery. Although Reeb had surgery, he died two days later in a Birmingham hospital.
* The most difficult myth to expose about Bloody Sunday (which the film does) is that King led the March 7 march. Though he had previously said he would lead the march, King was convinced by SCLC leaders to remain in Atlanta. That decision infuriated some SNCC field workers who condemned it as a betrayal of the local marchers.
* The movie portrays President Johnson as an antagonist to King and an initial opponent of the voting rights movement. Johnson is depicted as saying he will put aside voting rights while he pushes his war on poverty program.
Johnson was, as no less a civil rights icon than Julian Bond has stated, the greatest pro-civil rights president in our history. Duvernay’s portrayal of Johnson has already been roundly condemned by the curator of his presidential museum as well as Johnson’s advisers, such as Joseph Califano. Tapes and notes of meetings between Johnson and King are readily available at the Johnson Presidential Library had Webb and Duvernay taken the time to do their research.
Indicating that any publicity is good publicity, the circus mogul P. T. Barnum said “I don’t care what you say about me, just spell my name right.” In “Selma,” Duvernay, Webb and Oprah Winfrey have spelled our name right. Regardless of the historical content or lack thereof, that spelling will bring many people to our city, which will help our economy. For that, I am appreciative.
By Cecil Williamson
*** Cecil Williamson is a member of the Selma City Council. ***
The Montgomery Advertiser