Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Documentary Review: Crossing the Bridge: Selma, Alabama

This documentary tells the story of the Selma to Montgomery March which lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  The story starts with Black citizens going to the court house to petition for the right to vote.  In Dallas County, of 15,000 Blacks, only 130 were registered to vote.  Intimidation, literacy tests and other tactics were used to not register people to vote.  The local sheriff did not allow them to register.  They decided to cross the bridge in Selma, and march to Montgomery, the State Capitol, to address their grievances to Governor George Wallace.  The marchers were attacked with billy clubs and tear gas and forced to turn around.  One marcher escaped to a diner, and while protecting his mother was shot dead by a police officer. 
Martin Luther King joined the effort, and encouraged them to maintain a non violent attitude.  They tried again, and this time there was no violence, but they were turned back.  However that night, three white ministers of the Unitarian Church were attacked by the Klu Klux Klan with clubs, and one of them was killed. 
President Lyndon Johnson entered the conflict.  Governor Wallace even came to Washington.  However in the end Wallace made it clear that the State of Alabama would not pay for the protection of the marchers.  President Johnson took control of the State National Guard and ordered them to defend the marchers.  The March finally took place March 17, 1965, ten days after the first march. 
President Johnson made sure that it was the actions in Alabama that lead him to call for legislation for voting rights.  President Johnson spoke before congress on Mrch 15, introducing the bill: 

Open your polling places to all your people.

Allow men and women to register and vote whatever the color of their skin.

Extend the rights of citizenship to every citizen of this land.

There is no constitutional issue here. The command of the Constitution is plain.

There is no moral issue. It is wrong—deadly wrong—to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.

There is no issue of States rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights.

The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.

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