SPIGOLON: Press performed massive function in Civil Rights Period

This is an opinion.

The county government was kind enough to allow me to claim an unclaimed spot in the parking lot for the free screening of the movie “Selma” at Legion Field in Covington last weekend.

The Newton County Bicentennial Committee hosted the event, and early Newton County’s spring brought show-time temperatures in the 1960s.

Watching the film for the first time showed what the black residents of the south endured simply trying to use the rights they had legally but which they had not realistically enjoyed in much of the south in 1965.

What really impressed me was the role the national press played in awakening the rest of white America to what some white local government officials were doing to try to keep everything “normal” in their city by not allowing black residents to peacefully protest for their rights.

In contrast to the recent efforts of a president to sew up suspicions of the national press, the New York Times played a prominent role in exposing many atrocities in 1965, such as the Bloody Sunday march that treated 58 injuries State troops inflicted on them with a variety of weapons including bull whips.

It made clear the fact that a strong, independent local and national press is required if we are to avoid the government abuses depicted in the film – and which actually happened.

The title of the critically acclaimed 2014 film is somewhat misleading: its focus is primarily on Martin Luther King’s private and public struggles as he worked to secure full voting rights for residents of Norway in the three months between his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway Gaining Black Alabama in December 1964 and he led a five-day march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965.

However, the three activists who tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama – the latter two, led by King who missed the first march of “Bloody Sunday” – were highlights of the film.

King knew he had to use mass protests to get a response from local officials if he was to make a profit for black Americans in the Jim Crow era, as such events would be covered in the print and television media of the day.

He warned that if protests took place outside of hours he knew there would be no coverage – at night, for example – state officials knew they had a free hand to use violence against protesters without the glare of TV lights.

There weren’t any cell phones equipped with video cameras or social media platforms like Facebook to get the word out, as is the norm today, after all. This was also before CNN and MSNBC and Fox were giving us 24 hours a day, which some might consider weird news.

As was to be expected, real Georgians played a major role in the marches, including former UN Ambassador and Mayor of Atlanta Andrew Young, longtime civil rights activist Hosea Williams, and especially Congressman John Lewis, who was broken skull by Billy-Club – wielding Alabama State Troopers on “Bloody Sunday”.

I also noticed how willing the Selma residents were to try to make things “normal” for themselves again – despite a rapidly changing world in which black residents fought for the same rights they did legally had but were not allowed to use.

Local governments run by white people routinely violated laws they disagreed with regarding black residents.

In an eye-opening scene, a character played by Oprah Winfrey, one of the movie’s producers, attempts to put them to the vote.

Aided by the famous Segregation Governor George Wallace, the Alabama state government followed local governments’ efforts to deny black residents the political power that their rights afforded in a hands-off approach in 1965.

As a result, as shown in the film, local voter registrars could have the power to require black residents, for example, to recite the preamble to the Constitution or appoint all judges in Alabama before they could register.

Yes, it was a serious film on a serious subject.

However, it was nice to see all of the Newton County locations featured in a nationwide movie, such as the space now occupied by the Bread and Butter Cafe in Covington Square that has been converted into Selma Delicatessen. or the interior of the first floor of the historic courthouse was transformed into the Hotel Albert – where some of the movie props are still preserved more than seven years later.

Tom Spigolon is the news editor for The News. Reach him at [email protected].

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