We have not yet seen the film Selma. Pending this, we are surprised and perplexed as to why there should be any controversy about the respective leadership roles of Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. and President Lyndon B. Johnson concerning the events in Selma, Alabama, January though March of 1965. Then again, we remember the charges and countercharges between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama during the South Carolina Democratic primary presidential campaigns of 2008.
"Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964," Senator Hillary Clinton said. "It took a president to get it done. That dream became a reality. The power of that dream became real in people's lives because we had a president who said, 'We are going to do it,' and actually got it accomplished."
This statement by candidate Hillary Clinton was in interpreted by several leadership persons in the African-American community as demeaning and diminishing the leadership role of Dr. King in the successful passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill.
Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan is credited with originating the saying "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."
Aside from the actual audio tapes, photos, etc., from the Presidential Library of President Lyndon Johnson, the seminal book on Selma and the respective roles of Dr. King and President Johnson preceding and during the events presumably depicted in the movie is Judgement Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Laws That Changed America by Nick Kotz.
Joseph A. Califano was a former White House special assistant to President Johnson. In a Washington Post Op-Ed, he claims that the film "falsely portrays President Lyndon B. Johnson as being at odds with Martin Luther King Jr. and even using the FBI to discredit him, as only reluctantly behind the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and as opposed to the Selma march itself."
According to Mashable:
Califano says LBJ in fact came up with the idea behind the Selma march, which was to find the worst area of voting suppression and make a stand there; that the President considered the Voting Rights Act to be his administration's greatest achievement; and never used the FBI to disparage the civil rights leader.
We have had and continue to have great respect for the contributions of Mr. Califano to our country. Historical facts, however, require us to state categorically that LBJ did not in fact come up "with the idea behind the Selma march." The initiation of the March arose from the leadership role of Dr. King and the African-American leaders in Selma, Alabama, in January 1965 for voter registration in Selma and other parts of Alabama. This initiative in the community of Selma was captioned "The Alabama Project."
According to Judgement Days by Nick Kotz:
Dr. King had launched the Alabama Project with a powerful sermon at the Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Selma on January 2, two weeks before his conversation with the President (on Jan 15, 1965, the date cited by Mr. Califano as the date 'LBJ in fact came of with the Idea behind the Selma march'). Speaking to an enthusiastic audience of 700 black citizens who jammed the church, King called Selma 'a symbol of bitter-end resistance to the civil rights movement of the Deep South.'
As we said, we have not yet seen the film. But, we do not have to see the film to know what the historical facts were. We knew them from our role as a former political advisor and lawyer for Dr. King, before, during and after the 1965 events in Selma and the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The march from Selma to Montgomery and the plan to initiate a voting registration drive in Selma did not because "LBJ in fact came up with the idea behind the Selma march, which was to find the worst area of voting suppression and make a stand there."
The Selma march was a result of the political evolution and development of a movement by the African-Americans of Selma, and civil rights allies to insist once and for all, that the African-American citizens living in Selma have the unimpeded opportunity to register and vote.
From "30,000 feet" it appears that both the producers of the film and Joseph A. Califano misunderstand or simply do not know that the success of the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 was a result of the joint leadership and cooperation between Dr. King and President Johnson.
The director of Selma, Ava DuVernay, has been reported as citing, as "evidence," that President Johnson "opposed" or "did not support" Dr. King's efforts in Selma because President Johnson did not prevent J. Egar Hoover from conducting a concurrent campaign to disparage and destroy Dr. King's character by the FBI's dissemination of wiretaps of Dr. King with women other than his wife.
The events in Selma Alabama in 1965 and the passage of the Voting Rights Act transformed and expanded opportunities for hundreds of thousands of previously unregistered African-American voters in our country. They are unique and enduring testaments to the special historical roles played by both President Johnson and Dr. King.
Joseph Califano and others (like us) should be grateful that a film has been made depicting those persons and events that played such important real life roles in the movie's tribute to Selma, Alabama's, legacy of the struggle for political empowerment during the 20th century.