TriceEdney–Few who know me would ever think of questioning my respect for right-thinking, strong Black men. I’d never think of undermining their work in our community. As we review and write additional volumes to the story of the civil rights struggle, a better job must be done to include women and youth in the victories achieved.
Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq.
We do ourselves a huge disservice when we exclude contributions of those who’ve fully participated in the struggle. The national guilt that inspired the social change we saw in the 1950’s and 1960’s was generated, in large part, by television viewers seeing the barbaric treatment of Black youth and women on the streets of the South.
Through the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we’ve begun to critically reexamine the injustices of the past. We’re shedding the light of truth and correction upon many of the events that symbolize and sustain the spirit of racism in America. Increasingly, the efforts of those civil rights martyrs pay dividends in our present circumstance.
The film, Selma, has done a lot to refocus attention on the obstacles we fought against and has shed light on the peripheral characters that helped shape a movement.
Some who watch bio-pictures often view peripheral characters as composites of those who were actually involved. The women portrayed in Selma represent actual characters that provided spiritual support, such as Mahalia Jackson with song, or logistical support, as with Ritchie Jean Jackson who shared the bounty of her kitchen. Seemingly small, those and similar efforts, provided a foundation for the ground troops.
The courage of the women of the movement was reflected in the portrayal of Annie Lee Cooper by Oprah Winfrey. Her participation in civil rights activities was varied, but she’s famously known for punching the rabidly racist Sheriff Jim Clark. Considering the time, her act of resistance was life-threatening and inspirational. Her tenacity for life and justice lasted until she reached the age of 100. Oprah stated that she took the role “because of the magnificence of Ms. Cooper and what her courage meant to an entire movement.
Amelia Boynton, portrayed by actress Lorraine Toussaint, was another pivotal character in Selma. Her home and office became the center of Selma’s civil rights battles and was used to plan demonstrations for civil and voting rights. Of Selma’s population of 50% Blacks, only 1% had been allowed to register to vote. In protest, Ms. Boynton and others organized a march to Montgomery which resulted in the March 7, 1965 “Bloody Sunday March.” Ms. Boynton was beaten unconscious. Those who watched the 2015 SOTU Address caught a glimpse of 103 year old Ms. Boynton in the gallery as a guest of President Obama. Her presence stood in stark contrast to the 1965 photo of her lying beaten and bloody, on the Edmund Pettis Bridge.
Women and youth weren’t the only unsung heroes. In Rock Hill, SC, 54 years after being convicted and jailed for participating in a lunch counter sit-in, 9 former college protesters had their convictions vacated. They set a precedent that would serve as a model for civil rights resistance. Instead of paying the fine for their protests, they chose to serve the sentence of 30 days of hard labor.
Known as the “Friendship 9,” the men stood as symbols of a justice system gone awry. Judge John C. Hayes III said, “We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history. Now, as to the Friendship 9, is the time and opportunity to do so. Now is the time to recognize that justice is not temporal, but is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.”
Prosecutor Kevin Brackett said pardoning the men was inappropriate. A pardon implies forgiveness, and these men did nothing wrong. Let us keep their memory alive.
National Congress of Black Women. 202/678-6788. http://www.nationalcongressbw.org