Selma (from the History of Human Rights Class)

*I'll get back to the previous tale, promise, this is just a bit on an aside*

In November of 2008, I was delivering pizzas for Domino’s Pizza on election night. I had heard on the radio of Barack Obama’s win as our 44th President as I was on a delivery. The door to the home opened immediately after I rang the bell, and when it opened, the man on the other side had a wide smile that faltered slightly. I hesitated to speak.

“How’s your night going?” The customer spoke first. I smiled and said:

“Today is the best day, ever.” We both smiled, knowing exactly how each other felt. He gave me a massive ten dollar tip, and I nearly skipped back to my car. The customer was an African American man. As I drove back to the store I was able to leave work early that night and watch Obama’s victory speech, and as he thanked those who voted for him, believed in what was to come, and talked about what he wanted to accomplish, he thanked the LGBTQ community and spoke to us. I still tear up remembering that night, for he was the first president to acknowledge us.

The first time I heard Martin Luther King, Jr. speak was in one of my history classes in High School, and I was the first time the words of another brought me to tears of anguish, sadness and joy. Through his speeches I had felt the pain of struggle and strife, the cruelty of oppression, and endless spring of hope, love, and compassion. I may have been born on the same day of the year as Edgar Allen Poe, which has always spoken to the soul of the writer in me, but I had never felt so honored that I was to always celebrate my birthday near, sometimes on, the we celebrate him.

I’ve watched Selma twice now. David Oyelowo’s performance of Dr. King was excellent. From his speech patterns, to gestures, and his humanity, David fully embodied the presence of the man. That’s what he was, a man. The scenes between David and Carmen Ejogo, who played the role of Coretta Scott King, were filled with admiration, joy, heartache, and humanity. The humanity of Dr. King was the center of this film. True the events that played out were in connection with the multiple marches from Selma to the state capitol, but the heart and spirit of this film were about Dr. King, as a man, and African American man, who struggled internally and externally with the very human choices that had to be made.

A choice such as where to make his stand, to force the sitting President, Lyndon B Johnson, to take action in the South against states that had created road blocks in registering to vote, and actual voting procedures that prevented African Americans their legal, and proper, right to vote. The weight of risk of thousands of marchers, was too heavy for him alone to bare. He had shared some of that with his wife, with John Lewis, and many others. The film also showed his humanity in his failings of both pride, in a wonderfully acted and directed scene between he and his wife on opposite sides of jail bars while discussing support from Malcom X, and his desires of a carnal nature, used against him with recorded audio tapes by the FBI to cause a schism between Dr. King an Coretta.

This was perhaps the best quality of the film. Too often we place our heroes on pedestals that only deities are capable of existing, removing the most important aspect of our heroes, that they were human. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man, a man emboldened with uncanny strength, filled with the burden of a greater purpose, held both compassion and anger in his heart, possessed a superior intellect and insight into humanity, and was surrounded by compatriots from nearly all walks of life who flocked to him, to support him, and because they believed in what he preached. He was just a man, a human being, but only human beings are capable of such greatness. I’m not a religious man, burned by the Catholicism I was raised in, found shelter and acceptance within the Methodists, they were the first people, aside from my family later on, who accepted me as a young gay man, and disillusionment later in life, but scene in the Bible where Jesus takes a private moment of payer with God in the garden at Gethsemane, always moved me, for here was a man, burdened with great purpose, who asked God if there was any other way forward than the greatest sacrifice, his life. It’s an exceptionally human moment that is critically important in understanding the true weight of sacrifice. The film, Selma, does much the same for Dr. King as well.

I could talk at length about how important Dr. King was in my life as both hero, and my first good male role model, but I’ll save that for another day.


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