Selma: The Real Story

Posted on December 23, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Here is some footage of the real-life march from Selma to Montgomery depicted in this week’s Martin Luther King film, “Selma.”

Governor George Wallace made his famous pledge of “segregation forever” in his inaugural address. That speech was written by Asa Carter, who later, under a pseudonym, wrote the popular book The Education of Little Tree.

Lyndon Johnson speaks about the Voting Rights Act.

And at the signing of the Act.

In Politico, Mark K. Updegrove, director of the L.B.J. Presidential Library and Museum, provides some fascinating transcripts of telephone conversations between King and LBJ, showing how they worked together to put pressure on Congress.

MLK: It’s very interesting, Mr. President, to notice that the only states you didn’t carry in the South , those five southern states, have less than forty percent of the Negroes registered to vote. I think it’s just so important to get Negroes registered to vote in large numbers in the South. It will be this coalition of the Negro vote and the moderate vote that will really make the New South.
LBJ: That’s exactly right. I think you can contribute a great deal by getting your leaders, and you yourself, taking very simple examples of discrimination… If you can find the worst condition that you run into in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, or South Carolina—well, I think one of the worst I ever heard of was the president of a school at Tuskegee, or head of the Government department there or something, being denied the right to cast a vote. If you just take that one illustration and get it on radio, get it on television, get in the pulpits, get it in the meetings, get it every place you can; pretty soon, the fellow that didn’t do anything but drive a tractor will say, “that’s not right, that’s not fair.” And then, that’ll help us in what we’re going to shove through in the end.
MLK: You’re exactly right about that.
LBJ: And if we do that, we’ll break through—it’ll be the greatest breakthrough of anything, not even excepting the ’64 Act… because it’ll do things even that ’64 Act couldn’t do.

Matthew Yglisias has a thoughtful response to the Johnson insiders who object to the portrayal of LBJ’s views and actions in the film.

It would be more accurate to say that the film paints a nuanced picture of the interplay between activists and politicians. Johnson and King are at odds at times, but Johnson explicitly — and correctly — says there is an inherent tension between their roles even as they share a commitment to broadly similar goals.

Congressman John Lewis, portrayed as a young man by Stephan James in the film, talks about the Voting Rights Act.

A behind the scenes featurette pays tribute to the real-life marchers.

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