On Travels, Selma and African-Americans in Films: Part I

I have seen the movie Selma twice- first on its opening day in my State and again the following Monday. I have never done this before. In fact, I am known more for walking out of films than I am for enjoying them in theaters. This film touched me on many levels and caused me to think about my past experiences, The Civil Rights Movement, and current media in such a way that I had trouble abbreviating my feelings. For this reason, this will be a three-part series.

As a college student, many of my peers were interested in studying or traveling abroad. While I know that doing either looks great on resumes and provides excellent life experience, none of the programs stood out to me or my budget. It was not until my sophomore year that a travel-study course sparked my interest. It was the Civil Rights Spring Break. For a week, a mixture of students, faculty and University staff would travel to four states (Georgia, Alabama, Ohio and Tennessee) to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement. This immediately sparked my interest and I applied to go. My application was accepted for the inaugural trip and in March 2011, I and a group of my peers embarked on the journey.

Miraculously, we had an amazingly diverse group for a school of our size. It was the perfect mixture of Black, White, Asian, Latino, European, Foreign-born, American-born, LGBT, religions and class. Name a background and I am positive that you could find someone on that bus that could identify with it. As a part of the experience we were required to change seats after each stop and sit by someone new and encouraged to journal.

The first stop was at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio where we experienced a tour that took us from Africa, through the Middle Passage, to Slavery, Freedom and  a look at modern-day slavery. From there we traveled to Atlanta, Georgia and toured several Martin Luther King Jr. sites. While, as a group, we enjoyed the Freedom Center and Atlanta, the time spent in Alabama (Montgomery and Selma) proved to be the favorite. In Montgomery, Alabama we visited the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and Parsonage. In Selma, we took a tour of the city given by Ms. Joanne Bland, a Selma native who was a participant in Bloody Sunday at the age of eleven.

*The below video of Ms. Bland was taken by a tourist on the Living Legacy Project. I did not travel on this trip but wanted to give you a chance to hear Ms. Bland speak.

During the tour of Selma, Ms. Bland said something that stayed with me “they [media, history books] want you to think that we went back home and cried [after Bloody Sunday]. But that is not what happened, people were mad and wanted to reorganize.” Despite my fascination with history, I never considered that the people who organized and marched got angry. In my formative years, non-violence was stressed whenever The Civil Rights Movement was mentioned. In my naiveté, I confused non-violence with timidity. The more I read and learned about this movement, the more I began to see its participants for the giants that they are. They were not mealy-mouthed, do-gooders who traipsed their way to justice, but people who broke down barriers by dismantling them, brick by brick. In the movie Selma, this point is amplified.

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