Every second and fourth Saturday of the month, the Greensboro International Civil Rights Museum shows “Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot.” This short film portrays students and teachers of Alabama coming together to protest and win voting rights for African Americans.
The film begins by depicting the racially motivated bomb attack on a church in Birmingham, Alabama, where four young girls were killed. The citizens of Birmingham go into great detail about how these attacks were regular and predictable, as they were committed by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
On March 7, 1965, 600 protesters walked for 18 days and over 54 miles, in order to change history for the better. This was possible because all civil rights activists involved prevailed through unjust arrests, intimidation and violence.
High school students were initially targeted for the protest, because they appeared to be more enthusiastic towards taking a stand, and they enjoyed the idea of leadership. “Adults were worried about their jobs and intimidation, and we as kids had no jobs to worry about,” said a Selma activist in the film.
“I wanted a change. My father would walk into a store, this big, handsome, hard-working, strong black man and I’d hear him be called a ‘boy’ and a ‘ni**er’, said high school student in the film, Lynda Blackmon. The students in the film would canvas door-to-door to get people to go register to vote. It is said that when African Americans attempted to vote, the managers would report it to their bosses — if they had a job — and they would get fired.
Students skipped to school to participate in marches, protests and local sit-ins. In October 7 of 1963, there was a mass registration event at the county courthouse that many students in the film promoted. In just three weeks, over 200 students were arrested.
Weekly mass meetings took place where students and would meet at the church and discuss methods of getting the word out about voting registration. “It hit us that we had a voice…we had a voice,” said a protester.
Protesting was made easier when a law passed on July 2nd of 1964 prohibited segregation in public places. This inspired students to integrate all local business such as restaurants, movie theatres, etc.
When white citizens felt that the protests had gotten out of hand, the film explained that a judge passed a law, stating that only three civil rights members were allowed to meet up. All mass protests in the film then came to a halt, and as a result, secret meetings were held to devise a plan to counteract this law.
People in the film were shown to even have been invited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to one of these meetings.
“We must be willing to go to jail by the thousands in Alabama to get the right to vote,” said King Jr. The film showed that King Jr. also had private meetings with President Lyndon Johnson, urging him to pass the Voting Rights Act, to which Johnson replied, “It’s not time yet.”
Students in the film found out about another mass registration event at the courthouse, however, this time was different. In the film it was shown that teachers decided that since their students were out taking a stand for their state, that they should be too. “We got prepared to go to jail, brought toothpaste and a toothbrush…we just knew they were gonna arrest us,” said a teacher of Selma in the film.
Once the protest began, as the film showed, an officer threatened to arrest each of the 105 teachers who showed up to protest. The courthouse manager in the film was shown to have asked, “If you arrest all of the teachers, what are you going to do with their students.”
The teachers in the film walked away free, inspiring more and more adults to take a stand, rather than be afraid. The film showed that protest then began happening daily, as police became more brutal and more arrests took place. Over 600 students and adults were arrested for parading without a permit, one of them being Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
These mass protests and brutal arrests, as the film showed, took place for a while, before the three Selma to Montgomery marches that took place in 1965.
The film highlighted that these marches intended to advocate against racial injustice. Hundreds of people in Alabama sacrificed their lives for African Americans to vote on a daily basis, and in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act allowing African Americans to vote.
“Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot,” shows that these historic moments were just as significant today as it was years ago. The International Civil Rights Museum is currently in the process of building a portion of the museum dedicated to Selma, Alabama, and is expected to be finished within a month.