King Holiday Events Include Air of Protest Over Deaths of Black Men

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Allan Levine: The film ‘Selma’ — riveting drama, lousy history.

Among the many poignant scenes in the new film Selma about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 1965 protest in Alabama for African-American voting rights is the one in which Oprah Winfrey, in the role of Annie Lee Cooper (who died in 2010 at the age of 100), attempts to register to vote. After a year of unrest over how the justice system responded to the deaths of several unarmed African-American men, many people marking Martin Luther King’s Birthday on Monday were more rueful than celebratory.At the recent 2015 Golden Globe Awards, show host Tina Fey delivered one of the most poignant and effective jokes of the evening in regard to the multi-nominated film “Selma,” based on the Dr.Former President Clinton sang the praises of the Oscar-snubbed Selma at the King Center’s Annual Salute to Greatness Awards Dinner in Atlanta, Georgia. Some marchers in a small city in northern Alabama wore black shirts with the names of three of the men in white print: Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin.

Outrage over the Oscar snubbing of Selma, especially in its failure to recognize David Oyelowo and Ava DuVernay in the key Best Actor and Best Director categories, has been loud. Had he not been assassinated in 1968, King would have marked his 86th birthday on Jan. 15. “Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63″ (1986), “Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-1965″ (1998), “At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68″ (2006) and “The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement” (2013), all by Taylor Branch. They were joined by senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson, and Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. But in several large cities, protests were organized by a new generation of activists who said they wanted to use the day to denounce injustice and to point out social inequality.

At a time when waves of civil unrest continue to ripple across America in light of Michael Brown’s and Eric Garner’s deaths at the hands of police under what can safely be called murky circumstances, citizens are taking to the streets (and in some cases, popular brunch spots) in protests that have become more common than in years past. Louis, several thousand people gathered outside the Old Courthouse — where enslaved blacks were once sold as property — for a march to Harris-Stowe State University, chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, the killing cops have got to go,” and “Whose lives matter? Treasury Secretary Jack Lew served alongside City Year AmeriCorps members in New York City; Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and General Services Administrator Dan Tangherlini took part in the Student Conservation Association’s annual King Day cleanup of Anacostia Park; Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack helped to provide housing and placement services at the Central Iowa Shelter & Service’s Mulberry Food and Farms Greenhouse in Des Moines, Iowa. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker spoke at a Taproot Foundation event in Baltimore to connect about 100 nonprofit organizations with professional project managers.

Cole were already there, having penned the moving song, “Be Free” last August after Michael Brown was shot dead by police officer Darren Wilson on the streets of Ferguson, Mo., using a December appearance on “Late Night With David Letterman” to perform the track instead of promoting one from his recently released and chart-topping album, “2014 Forest Hills Drive.” “There ain’t no drink out there that can numb my soul,” he sang in the stirring performance. “All we want to do is take the chains off/All we want to do is be free.” Reclusive R&B artist D’Angelo was moved to rush-release his long-awaited (more than 14 years long, to be exact) third full-length album, “Black Messiah,” after a grand jury chose not to indict Darren Wilson for Brown’s death. Good-naturedly referencing his friend Andrew Young—who marched with King and is prominent in the film—early in his speech, Clinton told the sold-out crowd, “I saw Andy earlier today and I said, ‘Andy, I just watched Selma. At least in theory, no U.S. male citizen, white or black, could be denied the right to vote “on account of race, colour, or previous condition of servitude.” Southern officials, however, employed black codes and Jim Crow laws to enforce grandfather causes, poll taxes and literacy tests on the former slaves.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez spoke to students at the University of South Carolina and served meals to volunteers at service projects throughout the city of Columbia, South Carolina. While not overtly political in content, D’Angelo contends in the liner notes that the album is “about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and in every place where a community has had enough and decides to make change happen.” Other artists have taken a more direct and personal approach, none more so than hip-hop super-group Run the Jewels and rapper Michael “Killer Mike” Render in particular. Were you ever that thin?’ (eliciting thunderous laughter) and he said yes, he was, that they were dodging so many bullets in droves they all used to be thin.” As he continued to speak, he got decidedly more serious. “If you haven’t yet, go see the movie Selma,” he insisted, “and you will see the enormous pressures imposed on the King family and friends.” Clinton made it clear, however, that it was King’s philosophy of a “beloved community” that Selma most affirmed for him. “I was reminded all over again when I was sitting through Selma,” he shared. “You know it wasn’t like I didn’t live through it,” the 68-year-old Clinton confided, “and I swear [it was] just like it was the first time.

Nearly a hundred years later, little had changed in the small city of Selma, Alabama, 80 km west of Montgomery, where, as the film shows, Selma’s white legal authorities led by the unsavory Sheriff Jim Clark ignored Supreme Court rulings and federal government law to enforce segregation and prevent its African-American citizens — a majority of the population locally — from registering to vote. The key moment in Selma is the bloody confrontation on the city’s Edmund Pettis Bridge on March 7, 1965, when King and about 600 supporters on a peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery, the state capital, were attacked by Clark and his deputies, state troopers and deputized Ku Klux Klan men on horseback.

Instead of the group’s show opening to the strains of Queen’s classic rock song, “We Are the Champions,” Render delivered an emotional address to the audience: “I have a 20-year-old son and a 12-year-old son, and I am so afraid for them today,” he admitted while choking back tears. Render’s passion led him to speak on the situation on CNN as well as pen an op-ed article for Billboard to further amplify the frustration and outrage felt by so many African Americans across the country. “The police are paid by the public and carry a public trust, and they take an oath to protect us as citizens. We all want to think we can do great things because we have a launching pad,” he preached. “Fifty years ago a lot of people took a lot of chances walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, just showing up at the church one Sunday in Birmingham, driving people back home after they had been a part of some group or activity,” he later emphasized. “To get up and walk through the day and breathe was a chance.” Not losing sight of Dr. Frady’s slender volume, part of the Penguin Lives biography series, provides a streamlined overview of King’s life and work. “Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1941-1963″ and “Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1963-1973″ anthologies by the Library of America.

Edgar Hoover of the FBI (Hoover erroneously believed that King was a communist and attempted to blackmail him with details of his extra-marital affairs obtained from wire taps on King’s hotel rooms), LBJ was committed to extending African-American civil rights, more than any other 20th century president up to that point. King was in Memphis, across the river from my native state, helping the sanitation workers on his way to kick-off the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington D.C. because the beloved community is about the inclusive economics of giving everybody a chance to work and be rewarded for it and to rise as high as they can.” And perhaps this is what most angers people about this year’s Oscar nominations. Ultimately the makeup of the Academy, which is 93 percent white, 76 percent male, and an average age of 63, mirrors those old, white men in Selma and throughout the South who used their power to silence the voices—artistic, or otherwise—of those unlike themselves.

Authors include Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, John Steinbeck, Charlayne Hunter, John Hersey, Joan Didion, Gordon Parks and Earl Caldwell, the only reporter to witness the assassination of King. “Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. King’s legacy felt different than in the past. “It is different because of all the police killings that have gone on,” she said. “It has taken on a different tone.” And in Athens, Ala., where a column of junior R.O.T.C. cadets and the mayor led the annual parade past Limestone Drug and the U.

While a song is not going to end racism in America, music and musicians can inspire people to take matters into their own hands and work toward a better, safer and more just world to live in and leave behind for generations to follow. DuVernay and Oyelowo have brought the pages of history so thrillingly alive that they’ve captured the attention of two of our nation’s most esteemed leaders.

But I think that you can contribute a great deal by getting your leaders and you yourself, taking very simple examples of discrimination where a man’s got to memorize Longfellow [in order to vote] or whether he’s got to quote the first 10 Amendments or he’s got to tell you what amendment 15 and 16 and 17 is, and then ask them if they know and show what happens.” After “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, King and his supporters were finally able to complete the march to Montgomery under armed federal guard. Robert Bentley as he was inaugurated, and the demonstrators interrupted the event by singing “We Shall Overcome” and saying “Black lives matter.” Even at the more conventional King holiday events, public concern about police conduct was frequently mentioned.

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