Black History Month 2023 :: Why BHM is Important

Origins of Black History Month

Daryl Michael Scott

Re-publication

The story of Black History Month begins in Chicago during the summer of 1915. An alumnus of the University of Chicago with many friends in the city, Carter G. Woodson traveled from Washington, D.C. to participate in a national celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation sponsored by the state of Illinois. Thousands of African Americans traveled from across the country to see exhibits highlighting the progress their people had made since the destruction of slavery. Awarded a doctorate in Harvard three years earlier, Woodson joined the other exhibitors with a black history display. Despite being held at the Coliseum, the site of the 1912 Republican convention, an overflow crowd of six to twelve thousand waited outside for their turn to view the exhibits. Inspired by the three-week celebration, Woodson decided to form an organization to promote the scientific study of black life and history before leaving town. On September 9th, Woodson met at the Wabash YMCA with A. L. Jackson and three others formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH).

He hoped that others would popularize the findings that he and other black intellectuals would publish in The Journal of Negro History, which he established in 1916. As early as 1920, Woodson urged black civic organizations to promote the achievements that researchers were uncovering. A graduate member of Omega Psi Phi, he urged his fraternity brothers to take up the work. In 1924, they responded with the creation of Negro History and Literature Week, which they renamed Negro Achievement Week. Their outreach was significant, but Woodson desired greater impact. As he told an audience of Hampton Institute students, “We are going back to that beautiful history and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements.” In 1925, he decided that the Association had to shoulder the responsibility. Going forward it would both create and popularize knowledge about the black past. He sent out a press release announcing Negro History Week in February, 1926.

Woodson chose February for reasons of tradition and reform. It is commonly said that Woodson selected February to encompass the birthdays of two great Americans who played a prominent role in shaping black history, namely Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose birthdays are the 12th and the 14th, respectively. More importantly, he chose them for reasons of tradition. Since Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, the black community, along with other Republicans, had been celebrating the fallen President’s birthday. And since the late 1890s, black communities across the country had been celebrating Douglass’. Well aware of the pre-existing celebrations, Woodson built Negro History Week around traditional days of commemorating the black past. He was asking the public to extend their study of black history, not to create a new tradition. In doing so, he increased his chances for success.

Yet Woodson was up to something more than building on tradition. Without saying so, he aimed to reform it from the study of two great men to a great race. Though he admired both men, Woodson had never been fond of the celebrations held in their honor. He railed against the “ignorant spellbinders” who addressed large, convivial gatherings and displayed their lack of knowledge about the men and their contributions to history. More importantly, Woodson believed that history was made by the people, not simply or primarily by great men. He envisioned the study and celebration of the Negro as a race, not simply as the producers of a great man. And Lincoln, however great, had not freed the slaves—the Union Army, including hundreds of thousands of black soldiers and sailors, had done that. Rather than focusing on two men, the black community, he believed, should focus on the countless black men and women who had contributed to the advance of human civilization.

From the beginning, Woodson was overwhelmed by the response to his call. Negro History Week appeared across the country in schools and before the public. The 1920s was the decade of the New Negro, a name given to the Post-War I generation because of its rising racial pride and consciousness. Urbanization and industrialization had brought over a million African Americans from the rural South into big cities of the nation. The expanding black middle class became participants in and consumers of black literature and culture. Black history clubs sprang up, teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils, and progressive whites stepped and endorsed the efforts.

Woodson and the Association scrambled to meet the demand. They set a theme for the annual celebration and provided study materials—pictures, lessons for teachers, plays for historical performances, and posters of important dates and people. Provisioned with a steady flow of knowledge, high schools in progressive communities formed Negro History Clubs. To serve the desire of history buffs to participate in the re-education of black folks and the nation, ASNLH formed branches that stretched from coast to coast. In 1937, at the urging of Mary McLeod Bethune, Woodson established the Negro History Bulletin, which focused on the annual theme. As black populations grew, mayors issued Negro History Week proclamations, and in cities like Syracuse progressive whites joined Negro History Week with National Brotherhood Week.

Like most ideas that resonate with the spirit of the times, Negro History Week proved to be more dynamic than Woodson or the Association could control. By the 1930s, Woodson complained about the intellectual charlatans, black and white, popping up everywhere seeking to take advantage of the public interest in black history. He warned teachers not to invite speakers who had less knowledge than the students themselves. Increasingly publishing houses that had previously ignored black topics and authors rushed to put books on the market and in the schools. Instant experts appeared everywhere, and non-scholarly works appeared from “mushroom presses.” In America, nothing popular escapes either commercialization or eventual trivialization, and so Woodson, the constant reformer, had his hands full in promoting celebrations worthy of the people who had made the history.

Well before his death in 1950, Woodson believed that the weekly celebrations—not the study or celebration of black history–would eventually come to an end. In fact, Woodson never viewed black history as a one-week affair. He pressed for schools to use Negro History Week to demonstrate what students learned all year. In the same vein, he established a black studies extension program to reach adults throughout the year. It was in this sense that blacks would learn of their past on a daily basis that he looked forward to the time when an annual celebration would no longer be necessary. Generations before Morgan Freeman and other advocates of all-year commemorations, Woodson believed that black history was too important to America and the world to be crammed into a limited time frame. He spoke of a shift from Negro History Week to Negro History Year.

In the 1940s, efforts began slowly within the black community to expand the study of black history in the schools and black history celebrations before the public. In the South, black teachers often taught Negro History as a supplement to United States history. One early beneficiary of the movement reported that his teacher would hide Woodson’s textbook beneath his desk to avoid drawing the wrath of the principal. During the Civil Rights Movement in the South, the Freedom Schools incorporated black history into the curriculum to advance social change. The Negro History movement was an intellectual insurgency that was part of every larger effort to transform race relations.

The 1960s had a dramatic effect on the study and celebration of black history. Before the decade was over, Negro History Week would be well on its way to becoming Black History Month. The shift to a month-long celebration began even before Dr. Woodson death. As early as 1940s, blacks in West Virginia, a state where Woodson often spoke, began to celebrate February as Negro History Month. In Chicago, a now-forgotten cultural activist, Fredrick H. Hammurabi, started celebrating Negro History Month in the mid-1960s. Having taken an African name in the 1930s, Hammurabi used his cultural center, the House of Knowledge, to fuse African consciousness with the study of the black past. By the late 1960s, as young blacks on college campuses became increasingly conscious of links with Africa, Black History Month replaced Negro History Week at a quickening pace. Within the Association, younger intellectuals, part of the awakening, prodded Woodson’s organization to change with the times. They succeeded. In 1976, fifty years after the first celebration, the Association used its influence to institutionalize the shifts from a week to a month and from Negro history to black history. Since the mid-1970s, every American president, Democrat and Republican, has issued proclamations endorsing the Association’s annual theme.

What Carter G. Woodson would say about the continued celebrations is unknown, but he would smile on all honest efforts to make b[B]lack history a field of serious study and provide the public with thoughtful celebrations.

Daryl Michael Scott
dms@darylmichaelscott.com
Professor of History
Howard University
Vice President of Program, ASALH
© 2011, 2010, 2009 ASALH

How Stevie Wonder Helped Create Martin Luther King Day

Marcus Baram

Marcus Baram

Medium.com

Jan 18, 2015

How Stevie Wonder Helped Create Martin Luther King Day

Onthe evening of April 4, 1968, teen music sensation Stevie Wonder was dozing off in the back of a car on his way home to Detroit from the Michigan School for the Blind, when the news crackled over the radio: Martin Luther King Jr. had just been assassinated in Memphis. His driver quickly turned off the radio and they drove on in silence and shock, tears streaming down Wonder’s face.

Five days later, Wonder flew to Atlanta for the slain civil rights hero’s funeral, as riots erupted in several cities, the country still reeling. He joined Harry Belafonte, Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson, Eartha Kitt, Diana Ross and a long list of politicians and pastors who mourned King, prayed for a nation in which all men are created equal and vowed to continue the fight for freedom.

Wonder was still in shock—he remembered how, when he was five, he first heard about King as he listened to coverage of the Montgomery bus boycott on the radio. “I asked, ‘Why don’t they like colored people? What’s the difference?’ I still can’t see the difference.” As a young teenager, when Wonder was performing with the Motown Revue in Alabama, he experienced first-hand the evils of segregation—he remembers someone shooting at their tour bus, just missing the gas tank. When he was 15, Wonder finally met King, shaking his hand at a freedom rally in Chicago.

Nancy Wilson, Eartha Kitt, Sammy Davis Jr, Sidney Poitier, Berry Gordy Jr, and Marlon Brando arrive at the funeral for Dr. King

At the funeral, Wonder was joined by his local representative, young African-American Congressman John Conyers, who had just introduced a bill to honor King’s legacy by making his birthday a national holiday. Thus began an epic crusade, led by Wonder and some of the biggest names in music—from Bob Marley to Michael Jackson—to create Martin Luther King Day.

To overcome the resistance of conservative politicians, including President Reagan and many of his fellow citizens, Wonder put his career on hold, led rallies from coast to coast and galvanized millions of Americans with his passion and integrity.

But it took 15 years.

Inthe immediate wake of King’s death, the political establishment was more concerned with keeping things calm, tamping down unrest, and arresting rioters and activists. It was a violent year—that summer the Democratic convention in Chicago exploded in chaos and another inspiring leader, Robert F. Kennedy, was killed by an assassin. The country seemed on the verge of civil war.

Conyers’ bill languished in Congress for over a decade, through years of anti-war protests, Watergate and political corruption, stifled by inertia and malaise at the end of the 1970s. The dream was kept alive by labor unions, who viewed King as a working-class hero, with protests that slowly built up steam. At a General Motors plant in New York, a small group of auto workers refused to work on King’s birthday in 1969, and thousands of hospital workers in New York City went on strike until managers agreed to a paid holiday on the birthday. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, led a birthday rally that year in Atlanta, where she was joined by Conyers and union leaders. By 1973, some of the country’s largest unions, including the AFSCME and the United Autoworkers, made the paid holiday a regular demand in their contract negotiations.

Finally in 1979, President Jimmy Carter, who had been elected with the support of the unions, endorsed the bill to create the holiday. Carter made an emotional appearance at King’s old church, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. But Congress refused to budge, led by conservative Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who denounced King as a lawbreaker who had been manipulated by Communists. The situation looked bleak.

By then, Wonder had matured from a young harmonica-playing sensation to a chart-topping music genius lauded for his complex rhythms and socially-conscious lyrics about racism, black liberation, love and unity. He had kept in touch with Coretta Scott King, regularly performing at rallies to push for the holiday. He told a cheering crowd in Atlanta in the summer of 1979, “If we cannot celebrate a man who died for love, then how can we say we believe in it? It is up to me and you.”

Years earlier, Wonder had composed “Happy Birthday,” a song celebrating King’s life, dedicating the song and his next album to the cause. Originally he was going to record himself singing the traditional song to King but Wonder didn’t know the music, so he “wrote the hook for a different ‘Happy Birthday,’” remembers producer Malcolm Cecil. He held onto it until “the movement for the holiday was gaining steam,” and made it the centerpiece of his next album, Hotter Than July. The record’s sleeve design featured a large photograph of King with a passage urging fans to support the holiday bill: “We still have a long road to travel until we reach the world that was his dream. We in the United States must not forget either his supreme sacrifice or that dream.”

That summer, Wonder called Coretta Scott King, telling her, “I had a dream about this song. And I imagined in this dream I was doing this song. We were marching—with petition signs to make for Dr. King’s birthday to become a national holiday.”

King was touched but she didn’t have much hope, telling Wonder, “I wish you luck, you know. We’re in a time where I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Stevie Wonder and Coretta Scott-King in 1984

That August, during a memorable appearance with Barbara Walters on 20/20, Wonder played “Happy Birthday” on the keyboards, announcing that he would soon start a four-month tour with Bob Marley that would lead into a mass rally to push for the holiday. The location was ripe with symbolism—the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where King had given his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. It was just a few months before the election that put Ronald Reagan in the White House, and Wonder was concerned about the “disturbing drift in the country towards war, bigotry, poverty and hatred.”

Stevie performs alongside Bob Marley

Tickets sold out for the concerts, buzz was building, but then disaster struck — Marley checked into a hospital in New York with the cancer that would cause him to perish just six months later. Wonder asked songwriter and poet Gil Scott-Heron, known for his polemic “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” to fill in for the ailing reggae superstar. The tour was the highlight of Scott-Heron’s career, he later wrote in The Last Holiday, his book devoted to King and Wonder for inviting him to join the cause. At the end of every show, he would join Wonder on stage to lead the audience in a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

The tour was full of extremes. When they played at Madison Square Garden in November, Wonder delighted the huge audience with a surprise guest—the Prince of Pop. Michael Jackson slid on to stage during the reggae rhythm of “Master Blaster” and the crowd screamed as he twirled “like a boneless ice skater,” remembered Scott-Heron. And when they played in Los Angeles a week later with Carlos Santana, Wonder had to somberly announce John Lennon’s killing that night to a stunned audience that soon started wailing and breaking down in tears. In a moving elegy, Wonder talked about their friendship and praised Lennon’s integrity, connecting him to King, drawing “a circle around the kind of men who stood up for both peace and change” and making the upcoming rally even more significant.

The mood was somber by the time the tour arrived in Washington in early 1981, as the liberal city prepared for Reagan’s inauguration. No one expected much of a turnout for an MLK rally on a chilly snowy day. But 100,000 people from all over the country braved the cold on January 15 to hear Scott-Heron, Diana Ross and Jesse Jackson speak. When Wonder came up to the podium, the audience started chanting, “Happy Birthday!”

He spoke eloquently: “Why Stevie Wonder, as an artist? Why should I be involved in this great cause? …As an artist, my purpose is to communicate the message that can better improve the lives of all of us. I’d like to ask all of you just for one moment, if you will, to be silent and just to think and hear in your mind the voice of our Dr. Martin Luther King.”

Stevie Wonder, Gil Scott Heron, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Gladys Knight and Sam Courtney at a press conference at Rafu Gallery, Washington, DC, January 15, 1981.

Despite the outpouring of support—and millions of signatures gathered by Wonder and his team—Congress continued to debate the issue. President Reagan opposed the holiday, citing the cost of another national day off and suggesting instead a scholarship program for young blacks. Wonder came back the next January for another rally, and finally hearings resumed in 1982 and 1983. Though both Coretta Scott King and Wonder gave moving testimony, conservatives were on fire, led by Jesse Helms. During an intense filibuster, the North Carolina Republican labeled King a “Marxist-Leninist” whose “whole movement included Communists,” and called on the FBI to release its records on King. His language was so hateful that at one point New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan angrily threw a batch of Helms’s documents on the floor, calling it a “packet of filth.”

At that point, the rhetoric had grown so incendiary that even moderates in opposition felt compelled to express their support for the holiday. The bill passed, 78 to 22. Reagan signed the bill into law in November, 1983 but the holiday was not officially observed until the third Monday of January, 1986. For many years to come, certain states refused to honor the holiday until in 2000 South Carolina became the final state to recognize Martin Luther King Day.

Coretta Scott attends the signing of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by President Reagan on November 2, 1983 | President Obama presents the Medal of Freedom to Stevie Wonder in the White House on November 24, 2014. The Medal of Freedom is the country’s highest civilian honor.

Stevie Wonder continues to celebrate King’s birthday with frequent performances. On November 24, 2014, he was honored with the Congressional Medal of Freedom at the White House by President Obama, who told the singer that the first record he ever bought was by Wonder.

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Why Gil Scott-Heron Wrote “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

Finding inspiration in a world of unrest and rage

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Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. MLK Day 2023

For his service to our people and to this nation, be Grateful and Thoughtful on this MLK Day

It is not a day of service, it is a day of reflection, renewal, and re-engineering. A day to tell the story and lift up a most righteous demand for freedom. This man, through the power of our lived history, colored America and its infractions in 3D.

“For the good of America, it is necessary to refute the idea that the dominant ideology in our country, even today, is freedom and equality while racism is just an occasional departure from the norm on the part of a few bigoted extremists. Racism can well be that corrosive evil that will bring down the curtain on western civilization.”

 ‘The Three Evils of Society’ Speech – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – August 31, 1967

I for one, trust my struggle for justice and a reparative future for Black people in this country. Consequently, I do not fall for the “a day of action” distraction about what this day means. Pausing and re-assessment are the ways I spend the hours of this day. How I spend my MLK Day. It is a day that I remind my history recall that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who stepped up in history for a different future was assassinated. It is a day that I remind myself that you cannot serve the people, without loving the people. I am also reminded of my obligation to step out of the shadow and look back on the stenciling of Jim Crow across this country, in the heart of our children, in our government, and in these laws. I have an obligation. On this day, I review them, reprioritize and recognize all the shortcomings that can be found at the intersection of a double-consciousness existence that formed both the fracture and the power in me. I am not the child of some Founding Father. I come up from a place where I have been required to create my own country, voice, and place. MLK, Jr. added a very critical layer to that foundation.

Celebrate and remember the Father, Husband, Leader, Writer, Orator, Justice Interlocutor, Civil, and Human Rights Warrior.

Listen here to our 2022 Broadcast to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Volume VII: To Save The Soul of America, January 1961 – August 1962

Preserving the legacy of one of the twentieth century’s most influential advocates for peace and justice, The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., was described by one historian as being the “equivalent to a conversation” with King. To Save the Soul of America, the seventh volume of the anticipated fourteen-volume edition, provides an unprecedented glimpse into King’s early relationship with President John F. Kennedy and his efforts to remain relevant in a protest movement growing increasingly massive and militant.

Following Kennedy’s inauguration in January 1961, King’s high expectations for the new administration gave way to disappointment as the president hesitated to commit to comprehensive civil rights legislation. As the initial Freedom Ride catapulted King into the national spotlight in May, tensions with student activists affiliated with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were exacerbated after King refused to participate in subsequent freedom rides. These tensions became more evident after King accepted an invitation in December 1961 to help the SNCC-supported Albany Movement in southwest Georgia. King’s arrests in Albany prompted widespread national press coverage for the protests there, but he left with minimal tangible gains.

During 1962 King worked diligently to improve the effectiveness of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) by hiring new staff and initiating grassroots outreach. King also increased his influence by undertaking an overcrowded schedule of appearances, teaching a course at Morehouse College, and participating in an additional round of protests in Albany during July 1962. As King confronted these difficult challenges, he learned valuable lessons that would later influence the campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.

How Fannie Lou Hamer Created a Tool To Fight Voter Suppression Today

By Marc Elias

May 25, 2021

A geometric black-and-white collage featuring Fannie Lou Hammer and various scenes from civil rights protests

In 1964, civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer had a bold idea. A Black woman, she would run for Congress in the Democratic primary in Mississippi. Her opponent would be the pro-segregationist, white incumbent Jamie Whitten. At the time, Black citizens comprised 52.4% of the congressional district’s population, but less than 3% of its registered voters.

While she lost the primary 35,218 to 621, she set in motion one of the most consequential House election contests in history. And she may well have set the stage for the use of that process to fight voter suppression today.

After losing the primary, Hamer, along with Annie Devine and Victoria Gray, unsuccessfully sought to qualify for the November 1964 congressional ballot as third-party candidates under the banner of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Then, after the general election, Hammer, Devine, Gray and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party filed an election contest in the U.S. House challenging the seating of the Mississippi congressional delegation on the grounds that their elections were marred by voting discrimination and unconstitutional disenfranchisement of Black voters. 

The election contest was an evidentiary rout. Hamer and her team compiled 10,000 pages of witness testimony from more than 400 people. Depositions were taken in 30 Mississippi counties and hearings were held in 12 states. All of it told the story of disenfranchisement of Black voters in the 1964 elections by means of refusals to register Black voters, physical intimidation and other forms of overt, state-sponsored discrimination. The white congressmen claimed that they had no “personal knowledge” of voting discrimination taking place in Mississippi and complained bitterly of their lack of resources and inability to mount an evidentiary defense.

But what the congressmen lacked in evidence they more than made up for in the composition on the committee considering the challenge. After a 3-hour hearing — closed to the public, press and even other members of Congress — the House Administration Committee, which was dominated by southern Democrats, voted 20-5 to recommend that the House dismiss the contest. 

Among the reasons for dismissal was the fact that Hamer and the others could not show that they would have won the election even if Black citizens had been permitted to register and vote. But this issue had come up before — in the late 19th century. Between 1867 and 1901, the House decided more than 40 contests where violations of the 14th and 15th Amendments were found to be sufficient grounds for a contest to prevail, even without evidence that the election outcome would be different.

As the matter proceeded to the House floor for a vote in September 1965, some members — particularly those from the northeast — were under pressure to support the election contest. The images from Freedom Summer and the brutality of southern states towards Black citizens trying to register to vote were fresh in members’ minds. So too was the recently enacted Voting Rights Act (VRA).

It turns out that the passage of the VRA in August 1965 presented an opportunity for a “compromise” that would allow the Mississippi delegation to retain their seats. Opponents of the election contest made a two-part argument.  

First, they argued that the discriminatory conduct was only rendered illegal in 1965, nine months after the challenged elections. They noted that no court had struck down Mississippi’s voting laws as unconstitutional before the November 1964 election, even though Mississippi’s governor had accepted in 1965 that they did, in fact, violate the 15th Amendment. They further argued that the new VRA would have made illegal the tactics used in the 1964 elections to prevent Black voters from registering and voting. In other words, they argued that the new rules as of August 1965 should not be retroactively applied to 1964 elections and thus the contest should be dismissed.  

The second — and most critical — part of their argument was that, moving forward, violations of the VRA and 15th Amendment would be sufficient grounds to maintain and prevail in an election contest regardless of proof of the number of affected voters or the margin of the election.  

The majority thus sought to essentially block the challenge in 1964 by promising that from then on discriminatory voting laws and practices would be sufficient grounds to overturn an election in the House. 

As one member from New Jersey said while announcing his support to dismiss the contest: “The record of this debate…will constitute a clear precedent that the House of Representatives will no longer tolerate electoral practices in any State or district which violate the legal or constitutional rights of citizens to register, vote, or to become candidates for office.” The House will “use the power to unseat in the future, if there is corroborative evidence of the violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” 

Ultimately the House voted in favor of permanently seating the Mississippi congressmen and against Fannie Lou Hamer and her effort by a vote of 228 to 143. The concession on future violations of the VRA and the Constitution worked.

That should not be an empty promise. 

As Republican legislatures enact new voter suppression laws, Congress should reaffirm the House’s promise in 1965 to refuse to seat, or to unseat, members who benefit from discriminatory voting laws.  It is beyond question that the House has the absolute right to adopt such a rule — since it alone is the “Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members.” So, the only barrier to this approach is the House itself and its reticence to invoke its constitutional power. 

If ever there was a need for it to do so, it is now.

Republicans in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Montana should be on notice now that members’ elections are subject to House contest if either a court or the House determines that the member benefitted from discriminatory voting laws. And before they pass their own discriminatory laws, states like Texas, Ohio and New Hampshire should consider that the result could be the unseating of their Republican congressional delegations.

The right to vote is under attack. The House should be reminded of Fannie Lou Hamer’s courage in 1964. She may have lost that election contest, but she won a valuable tool for fighting voter suppression that is still relevant today.

SUBSCRIBE and SUPPORT Democracy Docket and the amazing legal war he is waging against voter disenfranchisement and suppression.

“BURNING IT DOWN: BUILDING ANEW” with Kim Brown, Host, BURN IT DOWN LIVE

This Week at OUR COMMON GROUND

Our Guest:  Kim Brown, Host, Burn It Down with Kim Brown

Saturday, October 9, 2021 ∞ 10 pm ET

Tune In Here: http://bit.ly/OCGTruthTalk

Listen Line: 347-838-9852 

Can Janice Have A Word ?

Systemically oppressed survivors face tremendous, overwhelming barriers to seeking advocacy and justice. The challenges, and the history of institutional oppression of our people is often time met with lies, propaganda and obfuscation. There are historical underpinnings include events that took place in the past which impact how an individual or community perceives events or reacts to issues in the present. Additionally, the government, elected officials and mainstream organizations are not designed for or by systemically oppressed peoples and are often complicit or architects. Thus, it is critical that people who advocate on our behalf, analyze for us, comment or any other form of representation understand the historical trauma and its impact on Black people as a systemically oppressed people. We are told and offered illusionary idea of what will fix it. To some of these systemic and institutional impediments, traps and weapons, there is no fix. They must simply be “burned down”.

We  use history as a lens to provide a holistic approach and knowledge to claim our own liberation. Sometime, those who are unable to access relevant information may have blind spots, in places that are critical. We use others to “fill us in”. Unfortunately, all opinion is not critical analysis. All talk is not critical examination or analysis. Cultural, economic and political  relevant response requires a deep understanding of our story and how different every context is, paying close attention to where we are in our struggle and the multiplicity of our experiences and reality . We need people who are able to break through the BS and see clearly what is before us at every turn. Know the rules, the playlist and the players.  People brave enough, smart enough and capable enough to show us the traps and tell us the truth. I have tried to be one of those. As I prepare to end my broadcast presence, I am on the hunt to recommend to the thousands of listeners who have depended on me over the last 34 years.  Kim Brown is one of those people. We are grateful to have her share our microphone.

Restructuring  and creating systems matter.“BURNING IT DOWN: BUILDING ANEW”

  “Burn it Down with Kim Brown” is a twice weekly live broadcast and Kim Brown calls out systemic issues within our society and envisioning a new world. She talks about how to restructure and create systems that are inclusive of everyone. She keeps it real, and actively destroys myths that the media and politicians love that we believe, like American Exceptionalism.

Burn It Down with Kim Brown is the place where you can set oppression ablaze. A Black woman led independent media that DGAF about taking on the establishment.

She makes a microphone rumble.

-Janice Graham

“Burn it Down with Kim Brown” is a twice weekly live broadcast and Kim Brown calls out systemic issues within our society and envisioning a new world. She talks about how to restructure and create systems that are inclusive of everyone. She keeps it real, and actively destroys myths that the media and politicians love that we believe, like American Exceptionalism.

Burn It Down with Kim Brown is the place where you can set oppression ablaze. A Black woman led independent media that DGAF about taking on the establishment.

BURNING IT DOWN with Kim Brown

Facebook https://fb.me/BIDWKB Follow us on Twitter @BurnItDownKB Check out our Insta @BIDWKB ALL

Burn it Down content remains FREE and available on a YouTube channel, listener support is the only thing that can keeps BID going!!

Support BID on Patreon at: https://www.patreon.com/BIDWKB

Glen Ford and the Need for Black Radical Analysis :: Pascal Robert 

Glen Ford and the Need for Black Radical AnalysisPascal Robert 

Pascal Robert a regular contributor to the online publication Black Agenda Report and is the current co-host of the THIS IS REVOLUTION PODCAST. He is an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice and INterLOCUTOR

04 Aug 2021

  

 Glen Ford and the Need for Black Radical Analysis
Glen Ford

Glen Ford and the Need for Black Radical Analysis

Black radical analysis was the foundation of Ford’s work

Since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the fifty-year counter-revolution against the transformative politics that had reached their apex in the 1960s brought forth a constriction of the American political imagination. When Richard Nixon took control of the executive branch, he used appeals to Black capitalism to tamper support for radicalism among the emerging Black middle class. Thus, just as the hammer of Jim Crow segregation was lifted, the class schisms that would shape Black political life became sharpened. In the post-civil rights era, the Black working class and poor, whose labor as sharecroppers and domestic workers during Jim Crow became obsolete, were forced to confront a new set of social and economic maladies: deindustrialization, urban blight, mass incarceration, and heroine epidemics. Yet at the same time, the nascent Black middle class who benefitted from minority set aside programs, affirmative action, and foundation funded racial uplift programs emerged as the gatekeepers of Black politics. The consequence of Black politics becoming a predominately middle-class politics of elite management meant that the clarion call of the Black radicals, who from the earliest days of the American Republic fought against political lethargy, complacency, and collaboration with forces of Black oppression, was largely lost. Glen Ford, founding editor of Black Agenda Report, was one of the few exceptions to that rule.

Glen Ford was born in 1949 to two parents who had met as radicals in the post WWII era. Thus, he was exposed at an early age to people that did not simply fold under the weight of the status quo. Glen’s father was a storied Black media personality in Georgia, while his mother was a dedicated activist in all aspects of Black politics in New Jersey. Following their separation, Glen spent time with both parents mastering the respective skills of each. Indeed, Glen Ford soon became a noted radio and television personality in his own right, joining the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and subsequently living his life as an activist journalist.

The details of Glen Ford’s life are easily ascertained, but even accessing the facts of his many accomplishments distracts one from understanding what made Glen Ford so important to American society. Glen Ford was a journalist and thinker who was rooted in the tradition of Black radical analysis. Black radical analysis is the ability to look at the overall social and political reality of Black people. It is premised on understanding the forces of racial and economic antagonism that hinder that constituency’s emancipation. However, this is coupled with keen awareness of internal mechanisms, forces, structures, and individuals within the Black constituency which collaborate with the social, political, and economic establishment resulting in further subjugation of the larger masses of Black people. Such a realization may seem simple for many to fathom. Yet, the over-arching social consensus views Black people as a singular underclass without internal conflict or class stratification. Therefore, those who dare expose how internal social and ideological schisms among Black people facilitate ruling class subterfuge are not merely anomalous, but clearly exceptional. Some may ask, “What is particularly Black about this form of analysis?” I would respond that awareness of the social mechanisms within the Black constituency requires not only proximity to the constituency, but the capacity to have such analysis taken seriously by larger Black society without breeding the suspicion of it being created by racial antagonists. Does anyone believe that Black America would take kindly to the exposure of the limitations of the Black political class if they were mostly leveled by voices outside that community? Anyone who assumes as much does not realize how much ire and push back those who engage in Black radical analysis receive from those within the “community” who are blinded by the charade of racial kinship politics into believing most Black political actors work under unitary Black interest.

Glen Ford, starting at Black Commentator and eventually through Black Agenda Report, created a lexicon and analysis of the Black political class, the civil rights establishment, the Foundation/Philanthropy world, and the left flank of capital. He introduced a whole generation of online readers unfamiliar with such strident critiques to a deeper understanding of the type of neoliberal Black politics that became more common in the Obama age, while even Black activists and academics incorporated such analysis into their work. Before the regular publications of Glen Ford, Bruce Dixon, and Margaret Kimberly one could only find such Black radical analysis in the books of a certain cadre of Black intellectuals and Black political scholars. Otherwise, one had to have personal access to the few Black radicals who kept such analysis alive during the fifty-year counter-revolution. What Glen Ford was able to do was take such trenchant analysis and popularize it. In doing so, consumers of online news media would begin to understand what was meant by terminology such as the “Black political class”, more notoriously, the “Black mis-leadership class.” At the same time, he was able to communicate the reality of the more cannibalistic neoliberal shift in American capitalism that took place during the post-civil rights era fifty-year counter-revolution. In short, he helped readers understand the disorienting waves of hyper privatization, de-unionization, gentrification, and public-school evisceration while such processes inflicted incalculable pain upon the laboring classes in general, and Black and Brown communities in particular.   

In the area of foreign policy, Glen Ford and Black Agenda Report stood alone among online publications in keeping the spirit of Black internationalism and Pan-Africanism that was once a common fixture of Black thought alive. A nuanced analysis of almost every political and economic crisis that affected the global Black diaspora was a regular part of Glen Ford and Black Agenda Report’s weekly repertoire. Furthermore, challenging the exploits of American Empire in the Muslim word, Global South, and even Europe, was also well within the purview of Glen Ford and the Black Agenda Report crew. This level of global and domestic coverage made Glen Ford one of the most important journalists in an age when Black politics was sadly embracing the neoliberal turn in both economics and policy.

However, without a doubt the most important contribution of Glen Ford and Black Agenda Report was to strike a massive journalistic blow against the curated Black consensus that supported the trojan horse, Robert Rubin hatched presidency of Barack Obama. My personal affiliation with Black Agenda Report developed from watching Glen Ford eloquently explain how the Wall Street Manchurian Candidate Barack Obama represented a threat to Black politics and Black people unseen in the modern history of the republic. Ford and his coterie were viciously attacked for exposing what only became obvious after almost fifty percent of Black wealth evaporated under the stewardship of the Obama presidency without recourse.

Therefore, not only did Glen Ford provide a critical service to Black America as a journalist, but he also provided a massive service to the burgeoning new left that developed in the wake of Occupy Wall Street and the Bernie Sander presidential campaign by having a journalistic record that challenged both the neoliberal Wall Street pawn Obama, and the whole corporate bought and paid for Democratic party establishment. The importance of Glen Ford to contemporary American journalism and political commentary cannot be overstated. In the wake of his passing, I can only consider myself fortunate to have personally experienced his wisdom and political education through regular phone conversations when I submitted articles. This, combined with the close friendship I developed with Bruce Dixon, made the work of Glen Ford and Black Agenda Report not only politically significant, but personally crucial to my development over more than ten years as a writer and political commentator.  It is largely because of Glen Ford, Bruce Dixon, Margaret Kimberley and Black Agenda Report that I have the foundation needed to engage in my own media project with Jason Myles on our show “THIS IS REVOLUTION PODCAST.”   It actually gives me a sense of honor to think that in some way, the work of Glen Ford and Bruce Dixon, who have both transitioned, can live on in the political commentary I bring forth in my work. In this way I feel personally enriched by both these men who dedicated their lives to the betterment of humanity. I salute their memories and hope to only improve upon the standard they have set. They embodied some of the best of what America has to offer in terms of political commentary and thought. Let us all recognize the importance of Black radical analysis in light of their passing.

Pascal Robert is an essayist and political commentator whose work covers Black politics, global affairs, and Haitian politics. His work has appeared in the Washington Spectator, Black Commentator, Alternet, AllHipHop.com, and The Huffington Post. He is a regular contributor to the online publication Black Agenda Report and is the current co-host of the THIS IS REVOLUTION PODCAST, which is live streamed via Youtube and relevant social media on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9pm eastern standard time and Saturday’s at Noon. Pascal Robert is a graduate of Hofstra University and Boston University School of Law. 

Pick Up the Pieces: Excursions in Seventies Music, Corbett

Unless you lived through the 1970s, it seems impossible to understand it at all. Drug delirium, groovy fashion, religious cults, mega corporations, glitzy glam, hard rock, global unrest—from our 2018 perspective, the seventies are often remembered as a bizarre blur of bohemianism and disco. With Pick Up the Pieces, John Corbett transports us back in time to this thrillingly tumultuous era through a playful exploration of its music. Song by song, album by album, he draws our imaginations back into one of the wildest decades in history.

Source: Pick Up the Pieces: Excursions in Seventies Music, Corbett

The Ghosts of 1964: Race, Reagan, and the Neo-conservative Backlash to the Civil Rights Movement – Race, Racism and the Law

Excerpted from: Anthony Cook, The Ghosts of 1964: Race, Reagan, and the Neo-conservative Backlash to the Civil Rights Movement, 6 Alabama Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Law Review 81 (2015) (Footnotes) (Full Document)

 

AnthonyCook“American slavery was “officially” buried by our nation’s ratification of the 13 14 and 15 amendments to the constitution. But the ghosts of slavery soon inhabited new forms — political, economic, and cultural — intent on returning Blacks to a position of abject servitude and subordination. Jim Crow segregation embodied slavery’s spirit of White supremacy, allowing it to live on in a different form. The civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century was but another attempt to exorcise from American life the demonic spirit of slavery that had so horrifically deformed American institutions and culture. But by 1980 it was clear, yet again, that notwithstanding the “official” death and burial of old Jim Crow — a death certified by the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights, 1965 Voting Rights, and 1968 Fair Housing Acts — the past lived on. The ghosts of American slavery and its mutant offspring, Jim Crow, roamed the land of the free and haunted the home of the brave in search of new cultural, political, and economic practices to possess and infest. American slavery was “officially” buried by our nation’s ratification of the 13 14 and 15 amendments to the constitution. But the ghosts of slavery soon inhabited new forms — political, economic, and cultural — intent on returning Blacks to a position of abject servitude and subordination. Jim Crow segregation embodied slavery’s spirit of White supremacy, allowing it to live on in a different form. The civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century was but another attempt to exorcise from American life the demonic spirit of slavery that had so horrifically deformed American institutions and culture. But by 1980 it was clear, yet again, that notwithstanding the “official” death and burial of old Jim Crow — a death certified by the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights, 1965 Voting Rights, and 1968 Fair Housing Acts — the past lived on. The ghosts of American slavery and its mutant offspring, Jim Crow, roamed the land of the free and haunted the home of the brave in search of new cultural, political, and economic practices to possess and infest. ”

 

Source: The Ghosts of 1964: Race, Reagan, and the Neo-conservative Backlash to the Civil Rights Movement – Race, Racism and the Law

The Leesburg Stockade Girls

You Should Know

Hidden Herstory: The Leesburg Stockade Girls

 

I never fully realized the monumental role that massive numbers of children played in civil rights protests. Law enforcement arrested and jailed children by the thousands for days, and sometimes months, and their involvement helped to enable one of the greatest legal and social assaults on racism in the 20th century—the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Leesburg Stockade Girls are an incredible example of these courageous, young freedom fighters.You may ask, “Who were the Leesburg Stockade Girls?” In July of 1963 in Americus, Georgia, fifteen girls were jailed for challenging segregation laws. Ages 12 to 15, these girls had marched from Friendship Baptist Church to the Martin Theater on Forsyth Street. Instead of forming a line to enter from the back alley as was customary, the marchers attempted to purchase tickets at the front entrance. Law enforcement soon arrived and viciously attacked and arrested the girls. Never formally charged, they were jailed in squalid conditions for forty-five days in the Leesburg Stockade, a Civil War era structure situated in the back woods of Leesburg, Georgia. Only twenty miles away, parents had no knowledge of where authorities were holding their children. Nor were parents aware of their inhumane treatment.

 

A month into their confinement, Danny Lyon, a twenty-one year old photographer for the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), learned of the girls’ whereabouts and sneaked onto the stockade grounds to take pictures of the girls through barred windows. After SNCC published the photos in its newspaper The Student Voice, African American newspapers across the country printed the story, and the girls’ ordeal soon gained national attention.

Leesburg, Georgia. Arrested for Demonstrating in Americus, Teenage Girls Are Kept in a Stockade in the Countryside, © Danny Lyon/Magnum Photos, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

On August 28, 1963, as Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC,  these children sat in their cell bolstering their courage with freedom songs in solidarity with the thousands of marchers listening to Dr. King’s indelible speech on the National Mall. Soon after the March on Washington, during the same week of the bombing of the five little girls at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963, law enforcement released the Leesburg Stockade Girls and returned them to their families.

Their story was part of the broader Civil Rights effort that engaged children in a variety of nonviolent, direct actions. In Alabama, for example, thousands of youth participated in the 1963 Children’s Crusade, a controversial liberation tactic initiated by James Bevel of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After careful deliberation about the merit of involving children in street protests and allowing them to be jailed, Dr. King decided that their participation would revive the waning desegregation campaign and would appeal to the moral conscience of the nation.

On May 2, 1963, in response to an invitation from Dr. King, roughly a thousand students—elementary through high school—gathered enthusiastically at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and joined a civil rights march throughout the streets of Birmingham. By day’s end, law enforcement had jailed over 600 children.

Alabama Fire Department Aims High-Pressure Water Hoses at Civil Rights Demonstrators, © Charles Moore, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The next day the number of children doubled. However, the training classes provided by SCLC leaders could not have prepared the children for the violence they would encounter. The Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene “Bull” Connor directed the use of fire hoses and attack dogs on the children, and people in America and around the world witnessed this brutality. Authorities arrested nearly 2,000 children—one as young as four years old.  These protests continued throughout the first week of May, with over 5,000 children being jailed.

Within days, SCLC and local officials reached an agreement, in which the city agreed to repeal the segregation ordinance and release all jailed protestors.  Ultimately, the activism of thousands of African American children in 1963, including the Leesburg Stockade Girls, provided the momentum for the March on Washington and contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act the following year.

The history of children’s Civil Rights activism continues to be important to tell. The Leesburg Stockade Girls realize this importance, and they are documenting their story. In 2015, as the keynote speaker at a commemorative event for the Leesburg Stockade Girls at Georgia Southwestern State University, I engaged with ten of the surviving women, who shared recollections about the day of their arrest. Remarkably, these women still possess a collective spirit of resistance to social injustice, and they are beginning to embrace their place in history.

As we reflect on their story and the broader history of youth activism, let us consider:  How might children today play an equally significant role in promoting racial equality in the United States?
Written by Tulani Salahu-Din, Museum Specialist, National Museum of African American History and Culture.

7842ac11-d64a-4d96-8308-644077b426c7.jpgSource: The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. It was established by Act of Congress in 2003, following decades of efforts to promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans. To date, the Museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts and nearly 100,000 individuals have become members. The Museum opened to the public on September 24, 2016, as the 19th and newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution.

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We Shall Overcome: Ava DuVernay on Making ‘Selma’ φ Rollingstone Magazine

We Shall Overcome: Ava DuVernay on Making ‘Selma’

The groundbreaking director talks about downplaying LBJ, honoring MLK’s legacy and why you should always have Oprah on your film sets

Ava DuVernay
Atsushi Nishijima/Paramount
Ava DuVernay on the set of ‘Selma.’

BY | January 5, 2015

As a filmmaker, you put the film out there, and you just want it to be okay,” says director Ava DuVernay. “You don’t want to let people down; you don’t want to embarrass yourself.” She’s done much better than that with Selma, a dramatization of the 1965 protests in Alabama led by Martin Luther King, Jr.; the movie, considered to be a leading Oscar contender, has already received four Golden Globe nominations. Peter Travers said in his rave review in Rolling Stone that DuVernay “blows the dust off history to find its beating heart.”

DuVernay, 42 years old, grew up in Compton, but spent summers in Alabama. A film publicist before she shifted careers to directing, she had actually signed up to do publicity for an earlier version of Selma. The screenplay had bounced around for over five years, attached to directors such as Lee Daniels. “It was looked at as an unmakeable movie,” says executive producer Paul Garnes. But British actor David Oyelowo — who had appeared in DuVernay’s Sundance award-winner Middle of Nowhere — very much wanted to play King, and unbeknownst to DuVernay, was lobbying for her with an international team of producers. Despite a resumé that was limited to two microbudget features, a half-dozen documentaries, and an episode of Scandal, she got the job, and a $20 million budget.

Ava

Ava on the set of ‘Selma.’ (Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Paramount)

Our conversation with DuVernay in a vegan Mexican restaurant in Hollywood happened three days before Joseph A. Califano, Jr., a former Lyndon B. Johnson aide, wrote a Washington Post op-ed complaining not only that Selma gave Johnson (played by Tom Wilkinson) short shrift, but that the president had come up with the idea for the protests himself. As it happens, earlier versions of the script focused on the relationship between King and the commander-in-chief, and how their joint efforts led to passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. She discussed why she had chosen to place less emphasis on Johnson, her casting philosophy and why it helps to have Oprah on your film set.

Let’s talk about reducing LBJ’s role in the events you depict in the film.
Every filmmaker imbues a movie with their own point of view. The script was the LBJ/King thing, but originally, it was much more slanted to Johnson. I wasn’t interested in making a white-savior movie; I was interested in making a movie centered on the people of Selma. You have to bring in some context for what it was like to live in the racial terrorism that was going on in the deep south at that time. The four little girls have to be there, and then you have to bring in the women. So I started adding women.

This is a dramatization of the events. But what’s important for me as a student of this time in history is to not deify what the president did. Johnson has been hailed as a hero of that time, and he was, but we’re talking about a reluctant hero. He was cajoled and pushed, he was protective of a legacy — he was not doing things out of the goodness of his heart. Does it make it any worse or any better? I don’t think so. History is history and he did do it eventually. But there was some process to it that was important to show.

Many presidents couldn’t have done it.
Absolutely. Or wouldn’t have even if they could.

I thought Tim Roth’s performance as George Wallace was very nuanced, when it would have been easy to play him as Snidely Whiplash.
I wanted to try to make everyone as human as possible. That trap that I see so many non-black filmmakers do with black characters, where everything is surface and stereotypical…I didn’t want to be the black filmmaker that does that with the white characters. Tim has talked about every actor has to love the character that they’re playing in some way, and in the time that we’re talking about, there’s not a lot to love in Wallace if you believe in justice and dignity. But he found a videotape or an article of his son talking about him, and so he was able to tap into the father doing what he thought was right.

I WASN’T INTERESTED IN MAKING A WHITE-SAVIOR MOVIE; I WAS INTERESTED IN MAKING A MOVIE CENTERED ON THE PEOPLE OF SELMA.

Whether it was Roth or Tom Wilkinson — or Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Root and Alessandro Nivola — all these characters represented a real diversity of thought about this issue from the white perspective, from the dominant culture. I wanted to create an array of folks who all thought about it in a different way because white thought wasn’t a monolith at that time, just as black thought wasn’t a monolith.

What was your philosophy when you were casting?
To work with people who fascinate me. Oprah being in the cast allowed me to have flexibility because she is such a big name. Her fame and her power created space for me to be able to hire Stephan James, a 19-year-old from Canada, for John Lewis instead of the hot young guy who was just in The Fast and the Furious,or whatever. I was able to pick and choose cool people.

What was it like having Oprah on the set?
Her first day of shooting was the day that Maya Angelou died. I had just driven up to the set in Marietta when I got a call on my cell phone from Andrew Young, the real Andrew Young: “Sister Maya has passed on.” And all I could think of was Oprah was on her way to the set. I immediately called her and said don’t come, we’ll do it another day. Tight schedule, a 32-day shoot, not a lot of room to move things around — but we’ll figure it out. She said, “No, I can do this, it’s okay.” She had the same trailer as everyone else. I spoke with her briefly, and I should’ve stayed, but I had to go out back to the set: I had 200 extras out there. So I called Tyler Perry, he sneaked onto the set, they had their moment, and she came out ready to go. I’m grateful to him; most people see us as very different filmmakers, but in that moment we were united around Oprah.

Ava DuVernay

Ava and Oprah on the set of ‘Selma.’ (Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Paramount)

How did your old job as a publicist prepare you to do this?
To make a film?

As opposed to eating guacamole, yes.
[Laughs] Just being able to talk to people. I used to coordinate and develop and execute really big campaigns for studios with a lot of moving parts. But the main thing is just articulating what’s in your head, which we overestimate that people can do — how do you get that out in a way that’s clear and un-muddled with the intention of producing a result?

What was the hardest scene to shoot, emotionally?
When Jimmy Lee Jackson was murdered in the cafe. At that time there was no Mike Brown murder, there was no Eric Garner murder — but there were so many others that are just ambient. It’s part of the atmosphere as a black person growing up in this country: You know that’s it’s happening somewhere on that very day. And a month later Mike Brown was killed. [Cinematographer] Bradford Young, [editor] Spencer Averick, and I, we designed that scene in a really specific way. It was really important that we have all that stuff worked out in advance because I knew it was going to be a rough, emotional day. This wasn’t a day for improvisation.

King’s tactics imply that his supporters are going to have to get hurt: Nonviolence doesn’t work unless the other side overreacts.
Being passive doesn’t mean sitting there and getting hit for the sake of getting hit. And it wasn’t all faith-based, either. There were some very practical reasons why it was used. You talk to most people about King now and they only know “I Have a Dream,” and that he believed in peace and then he died. Really? That’swhat he’s been reduced to? And we’ve allowed it to happen. And if there is anything that Selma does, it reinvigorates the narrative around him to be more full-bodied and more truthful about what his tactics were.

Are you religious yourself?
No, not religious. But I love God.

Can you talk about the aesthetics of violence of Selma? When the church blows up and kills those four little girls, it’s harrowing, but it’s also filmed in a beautiful way. How do those two things work together?
I don’t know if my intention was to make it beautiful. How do you film four little girls being blown apart? There’s a way to do it with a certain reverence and respect for who they were. That’s why it was important for me that you hear their voices before it happens.

There’s a sinking feeling in that scene — I counted five little girls, so I was hoping maybe it wasn’t going to happen.
There were five girls and one lived. And I put in a boy, to misdirect you on purpose. The violence throughout the film follows the same pattern. I resisted the idea of just it being a physical blow. That spectacle has been done: All we do in this industry is blow people up. But how does the hit feel and what does the face do after? What happens to that broken body and what happens to the people that have to tend to that broken body? It’s important to have the morgue scene after Jimmie Lee Jackson’s death, to show the mother and slow down on her face, to slow down the girls, to slow down Annie Lee Cooper when the men put their hands on her and take her down. It was about having a reverence for that was the idea behind it instead of, say, making it beautiful. You’re saying: This is worth taking a closer look at. Everybody stop and pay your respects to this.

Can you pinpoint a moment of joy that happened while you were making this movie?
So many things come to mind, but there was a day that we were filming in Richie Jean Jackson’s house, doing that scene when they all walk into the kitchen. We’re at this house in Atlanta, we had shut down the street. That was the day that Tim Roth and Giovanni Ribisi were coming for their hair and makeup tests. They have to come to see me, ’cause I can’t get away. So they come to the set, and I thought, “Look at all my guys, they’re all together — the White House guys, Wallace, the black guys.” Those characters never cross, right? The chance to see them all together was so fun. Then a black SUV starts coming up the street, going around cones. Our assistant directors and our production assistants are running down, saying, don’t go, they’re shooting. The door opens and out comes Oprah. She’s not supposed to be there; we thought she wasn’t even in the state that day! She starts walking towards me and I just run up to her and give her a big old hug. It was like a house party in the street.

Ava

A surprise visit from Oprah on the set of ‘Selma.’ (Photo: Instagram/@directher)

How was it having people like the actual Andrew Young on the set?
So cool. And it easily could not have been if they were grouchy curmudgeons. But there’s still a spark about them. These are our greatest minds, our greatest radicals. Time has not done them in. If you look John Lewis in the eye and he’s talkin’ to you about something, you’re like “Uh huh, let’s go do it!” When I sat down with them, I was really clear that we weren’t asking for anybody’s permission.

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But this [film] is not called “King”; this is Selma. This was as much the story about the band of brothers and sisters that were around him as it was King’s story. There haven’t been great pains taken to show that he was a leader among leaders — all of them could’ve probably done it. Why him? He could talk the best. He was an orator who was able to synthesize all these ideas in a way that spoke to the masses and also that spoke to people in power. But they were there and they were the masterminds behind it. I tried to show the strategy, the tactics, the arguments. That’s how history is made, not by consensus, but by people freakin’ battling it out, right? That’s how change happens.


Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/features/ava-duvernay-on-making-selma-20150105#ixzz3OLB5tbyP
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