We shall overcome

A few years ago I was looking for just the perfect short video to illustrate something in one of my classes. (The amount of time in my life I have spent looking for “just the perfect short video” on any given topic is, to quote a former student, redonkulous. Anyway, I digress…)

I don’t remember the topic of the video I was looking for, but the video I happened to come across was a powerful 17 minute documentary about the Selma to Montgomery march. This documentary was filmed by Stefan Sharff during the march itself, then lost or forgotten and eventually rediscovered a few years after his death.

The only words heard in the 17 minutes are toward the end, excerpts from Dr. King’s speech at the capitol. You can find the entire speech here: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/address-conclusion-selma-montgomery-march but the part included in the documentary is this below:

Let us march on poverty (Let us march) until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat. (Yes, sir) March on poverty (Let us march) until no starved man walks the streets of our cities and towns (Yes, sir) in search of jobs that do not exist.

Let us march on ballot boxes, (Let’s march) march on ballot boxes until race-baiters disappear from the political arena.

Let us march on ballot boxes until the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs (Yes, sir) will be transformed into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens. (Speak, Doctor)

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march) until the Wallaces of our nation tremble away in silence.

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march) until we send to our city councils (Yes, sir), state legislatures, (Yes, sir) and the United States Congress, (Yes, sir) men who will not fear to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.

(Address at the Conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March)

Before you get to those words, however, you hear only the sound of some protest music of the era (“This Little Light of Mine”, “I’m So Glad”, “We are Soldiers in the Army” and “We Shall Overcome”) juxtaposed against the sound of helicopters above the marchers. It is both hopeful and ominous, a feeling that seems to fit well for this time.

I showed this video today, the day after the first Presidential debate. The class is one on nonviolent resistance to achieve social change, and today we finished up a two week look at the civil rights work done in the 60s. So, the video certainly fits in our context. However, I think it could be used as a general discussion starter for a number of classes or groups as we move deeper into the election cycle.

Here are some of the questions we discussed: What do you notice about the people marching? What do you hear in these sounds? And (this is the big one): what do you see represented here in the video that you hope for in the here and now?

This question sparked such good discussion. We talked about solidarity, and what it looks like. We talked about the flag and the whole range of things it symbolizes for people. We talked about the premise, and the promise, of the ballot box. We talked about the importance of all the elections, from the small local ones all the way up to the highest office in the land. We talked about the current Wallaces of our nation. We talked about the music of the resistance today, and my students said it sounds different, less hopeful, than the music of that era.

We talked about why we are still having aspects of this conversation, 55 years after the march from Selma to Montgomery.

We talked again about voting, and getting out the vote.

We shall overcome.

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