Bridging the divide

20 Mar

This article was published previously in The Bridport News.

One feature of last week’s Oscar’s ceremony in Los Angeles was the sheer range of British acting talent on show. Although an Oscar went to only one Brit, Eddie Redmayne for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking several other Brits were nominated.

I was disappointed that Selma, the film of the fight for civil rights in America in the 1960’s starring two British actors, David Oyelowo from Oxford who played Martin Luther King and Leeds born Tom Wilkinson who played President Johnson, didn’t do better.  Although the film won best song for ‘Glory’, it failed to receive the credit I thought it deserved in other categories.

Selma in Alabama is where on 7th March 1965, fifty years ago this week, King and other civil rights leaders began to march from the town to Alabama. Crossing a bridge they were met with sickening levels of violence from State troopers which even today is still truly shocking when viewed on Youtube.

There were three marches planned in all, although King suspended the second for fear of more violence. The third reached Montgomery having been protected by thousands of soldiers.   President Johnson subsequently guided the Voting Rights Act through Congress.

My one grumble with the film is that it portrays Johnson as reluctant to pass the legislation whereas in fact it was part of his vision for a ‘Great Society’.

Our local schools support the UNESCO Rights Respecting Schools programme in which children are taught their rights as young people in a world which is often still exploitative.

It is a part of the on-going struggle for civil rights in those countries which retain racist, sexist and homophobic laws and practices and in which discrimination is still enshrined in state structures.

It is important for our young people to know of their rights so they may take up the responsibility for fighting for and protecting the rights of others.

I was seven when King walked across the bridge in Selma. That such a thing was necessary in my lifetime shows how we still need to protect basic rights.