SELMA and LBJ Spinners

By Arelya J. Mitchell, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief
The Mid-South Tribune and the Black Information Highway

In the last century, an elderly African American gentleman, who was also an activist, political advisor, businessman, and historian, said to me that if Black people did not record and pay attention to their history that it wouldn’t take long before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be portrayed in movies as a white man leading Black people out of Jim Crow bondage. His prediction came pretty close with the controversy surrounding the movie “Selma” with LBJ spinners asserting that the Selma march was President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s idea. They have spun their web to the point of having mainstream media believe that had it not been for Johnson the Selma march never would have taken place. Because the movie was so heavily criticized by LBJ agitators, the Academy Awards snatched up their spin to justify not giving the film its due respect and reason to go back to a lily white field of nominees in every major category, saving one black spot for “Selma” in the Best Picture category.

One must remember Marshall McLuhan saying that “the medium is the message,” and when the mainstream media decided to give its medium to LBJ anti-Selma agitators without presenting adequately the other side’s viewpoint(s), it further begrudged the movie of its due respect. Interesting how no ‘white liberal’ came out openly to defend the movie (and if one did, you have my apology).

“Selma” the march is history; “Selma,” the movie is history. And politics as back then abounds as it does now when it comes to American Black History. If this message of how Blacks themselves not only thought of Selma, but created it, marched in it, led it, and took the brunt of it fails to get out, it allows LBJ spinners to get away with killing the messenger (the movie) and the message (history) while controlling the (mainstream) medium, and to further belittle King as no more than LBJ’s puppet and African Americans as insignificant in securing their march towards freedom.

I recently received an advance copy of “Eye of the Struggle,” the biography of Ms. Ethel Payne, which I shall be reviewing at a later date. The biography, written by James McGrath Morris, clarifies even further my assertion and the movie’s portrayal of Johnson’s role in the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights bill. Johnson’s role in Morris’ book is in black and white (pun intended) but blends into ‘gray’ into a body of chapters detailing Ethel Payne’s journalistic coverage of Johnson from the 1950’s to his White House years. Payne, known as the First Lady of the Black Press, was the only Black journalist Johnson gave a souvenir pen to after signing the 1965 Voting Rights Bill.

“Eye of the Struggle” (HarperCollins Publishers) will hit the bookstands and e-book stands on February 17, and it should be read by every white journalist working in mainstream press—if they’re brave enough to do so (which probably they’re not because their self-righteousness ‘objectivity’ might not be able to take it…moving on).

When there are movies which portray Blacks as being in charge and taking charge of their socio-economic-political predicament, it produces white fear. This is a harsh assessment, and I make no attempt to politically correct it. “Selma” produced white fear albeit unnecessary fear. That ‘fear’ protruded its fangs from these LBJ spinners. Because sometimes, you see, a movie is more than a movie. It is a political statement. It is a socio-economic statement. It is vomit. And vomiting is not a pleasant thing. Yet, it is sometimes induced. Selma induced vomit. It made a political statement just as “To Kill A Mockingbird”; but unlike, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” it did NOT present African Americans as victims. Its message was to create white guilt through symbolically representing Black people as ‘mockingbirds’— creatures so small and helpless that it is a sin to kill them. And throughout cinematic history and American history, Blacks have been viewed as hapless victims or happy victims; nevertheless, victims; thus, creating a medium for “To Kill A Mockingbird” to be praised and for “Selma” to be slammed.

As stated earlier, Selma induced vomit. For it to have done that made it a strong, smelly movie to stomach for those who want to rewrite history by ‘not’ putting President Johnson in his historical perspective which is that Johnson wanted no more to deal with Black civil rights than Kennedy did or Eisenhower or Nixon. (Again, I underscore the Ethel Payne biography as further testimony to these men’s dilemma and the politics of Southern appeasement).

Some LBJ spinners have held up the secret FBI tape of a conversation King and LBJ had in which LBJ is telling King that if he (King) could stir up enough discontent that could drum up enough outrage then it might be easier for him (Johnson) to get a Voters Rights bill passed. The movie also depicted Johnson offering King a position in his administration. Both of these gestures were not so much about Johnson suggesting a Selma march as about Johnson trying to stop the march or at best get King off the subject of voting rights in that usual white modus operandi of telling Blacks to ‘wait’ longer because in Johnson’s estimation he’d done enough by signing the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. Remember, it is now 1965 and King and other Black leaders are viewed as Negro radicals and troublemakers’ because they went against the status quo. King and others had been thrown in jail for their civil protests countless times. (During these times not only were King and other Black activists being wiretapped by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, but Black press journalists as well. This, too, is documented in “Eye of the Struggle”.)

Johnson made his ‘stir up’ suggestions with the same ‘logic’ whites have used on Blacks to slow them down: Now if you do ‘ABC’ then you can have it. And once the Black American citizen does ABC and he returns and then it comes to ‘Now if you can do DEF,’ then when all the alphabets are used up, it becomes now if ‘you can do 1, 2, 3’…’ This has long been a southern plantation-like political tactic not only employed in the South but the North as well. Why? Because the one suggesting the ABC-1,2,3’ lingo figures that if he can delay or waylay a Black from action long enough then the Black would tire himself out and forget the whole thing. (To those who don’t understand this maneuver, I really don’t care… moving on). And the other tactic is to offer the Black a nice fat cushiony position so the target Black can ‘forget’. This is why LBJ offered a Nobel Peace Prize-winning King a position in his administration. Not from the goodness or his heart but from the Willie Lynch maneuvering of taking out and down the troublemaking Black who is well—making—trouble and cannot ‘wait’.

Civil rights events were forced on both Kennedy and Johnson and where they are to be credited is that they made a moral decision in spite of that morality having been forced by politics—national and international. One has to remember that African nations were coming out from under Euro-colonialism and these nations were cradles of oil, diamonds, and other natural resources. Neither LBJ nor JFK was a Quaker. They were not ‘John Browns’. In fact, they were not white men who would volunteer to go to the frontline to endure the pangs and pains of Freedom Summer, street beatings, and being killed and maimed alongside their fellow Black American citizens. Those were the ‘unknown’ white American citizens who hit the street or dug through the Underground Railroad on moral grounds and there is no ground deeper than moral ground. There is no ground bloodier than moral ground. It is the moral ground where graves are dug to six feet but where humanity springs up six thousand feet because it springs from blood, bravery and the gall to say hell NO!

Perhaps in the scheme of what I think of as ‘spiritual’ history, I view the 1960’s Johnson as rectifying what the 1860’s Johnson did not do after Lincoln’s assassination. That (Andrew) Johnson did not live up to the promises of the 13th , 14th, and 15th Amendments or Reconstruction which if had been done right, we as a nation would not be having the racial issues we have in the 21st Century.
And still as history will bear out: Black Americans themselves took the lead FIRST in securing their freedom. Nat Turner did not ask the white man’s permission to rebel. Rosa Parks did not ask the white man’s permission to sit down in the front of the bus. Emmett Till’s mother did not ask the white man’s permission to open her son’s coffin. Ida B. Wells did not ask the white man’s permission to print the names of those Blacks lynched throughout the nation—not just in the South—while a federal government aided and abetted in silence. Frederick Douglass did not ask the white man’s permission to put forth his philosophy that Blacks needed to make ‘demands’ if they wanted equality. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not ask white permission to lead the Selma march no more than he did to lead what was in fact the ‘second’ March on Washington. (Again, the first March on Washington is historically laid out in Payne’s bio).
Those Blacks who sat at their kitchen tables or in church basements or in front bedrooms did not ask permission to plan, organize and execute this march. The FACT that Blacks did it and the FACT that this movie portrays their ‘strategizing’ – this ability of Blacks to ‘think’—can be a disturbing consequence of the movie for those—such as the LBJ spinners—who would like to ‘think’ that Black Americans cannot ‘think’, plan, and execute and—yes—rise up from the blood that spilt that day as it drained into AMERICAN HISTORY as America’s white terrorists beat them mercilessly. These LBJ agitators do not want to think that Blacks can sit in a room, argue over ideals and ideas, and then come out unified and walk over a damn bridge their tax money paid for!
They walked over that damn bridge to the other side. They spilt the blood to cross bridge. They endured the ‘terrorism’ in America’s culture against its Black citizens. To call Klan and Klan-like atrocities anything other than terrorism is to dignify hate.

They. Walked. Over. The. Bridge.

And to you LBJ spinners who dare not put his actions in historical perspective, and to those in mainstream media who are too lazy to speak to those Black Americans who are alive and who took the brunt of this march, and to those in the Academy Awards who seek to revert to Clorox white by any excuse necessary, you don’t have the power to kill this movie or its message, because you will never bury Selma because Selma rests in moral grounds, the bloodiest of grounds.
And as God is my witness: The African Americans who wrote, produced, acted in, and marched out front with “Selma” did not ask permission to make this movie or needed Hollywood’s green stamp of approval. They made it anyway and in the fashion Blacks have always had to create and make it: On air and prayer.

And they damn well did it up!

And lest we forget–

They. Too. Walked. Over. The. Bridge.


The above is on the Editorial, Op Ed, Black History, and Black Paper lanes on The Mid-South Tribune and the Black Information Highway at . Welcome, Travelers!

About blackinformationhighway

Arelya J. Mitchell is an award winning journalist, editor-in-chief, publisher of The Mid-South Tribune and the Black Information Highway. She holds degrees in journalism and political science (specializing in international relations, comparative politics, and political analysis)
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