“Liberty and union, one and inseparable, now and forever!” – Intertitle from The Birth of a Nation
During the recent Olympics, national pride was at an all-time high, especially when medals, preferably gold, were won by Team USA. Such patriotism was also evident at the conclusion of The Birth of a Nation (“BOAN”) when “order” was restored by the heroically portrayed Ku Klux Klan. What does BOAN share in common with Team USA? Both present the façade of an ideal America. Team USA earned bragging rights for winning the most medals, however, their accomplishments did not indicate America’s dominance in the world. If the Olympics were based on health care and education test scores, America would find itself ranked too low to get anywhere near the medal podium.
Being proud of one’s country is commendable, especially with objectivity. In BOAN, the aforementioned concept of “liberty and union” did not include the recently emancipated blacks who were characterized as irresponsible and dangerous. Their subjugation was deemed necessary for the nation’s well being. Unfortunately, that same mindset is reflected in current voter ID laws that are expected to disenfranchise many poor, minority and the elderly voters. The justification is voter fraud, however, the real reason is much more sinister. I believe these machinations, which include the birthers and the Supreme Court’s ruling on campaign finance, are in play to prevent the reelection of President Obama. Deeper still, the enmity towards the President stems from an unjustified sense of entitlement, fear of revenge, and suppressed feelings of guilt.
“I believe that the white man has done a great injustice to the black man in this country by having kidnapped our people and brought us here and down to the level we’re on today and today instead of approaching the factors that their original mistake has created, instead of approaching these factors objectively and realistically, their greatest sin that they’re doing now is trying to pretend that they never committed a crime, that they never did any wrong.” – Malcolm X
Racism continues to haunt America because this nation has yet to atone for the immoral and inhumane institution of slavery from which it greatly profited. There’s much to learn from other countries like Rwanda in this regard. In Kinyarwanda, a recent film about the 1994 Rwandan genocide, a truth and reconciliation commission was set up after the civil war. The commission provided a safe place for those who had been brutalized and lost loved ones to face their oppressors and detail how they had suffered. Their persecutors were then encouraged to empathize with their victims by facing the impact of their crimes. With forgiveness and unity as the main objective, Rwanda’s truth and reconciliation commission was designed to benefit both the tormented and tormentors.
I often wonder how America would have benefited from a truth and reconciliation commission immediately following the Civil War. Would this have resulted in greater compassion and more respect for the lives, properties and rights of others? Or would there still be need for euphemisms like manifest destiny, making the world safe for democracy and justifiable homicide? Would “liberty and union” include everyone equally? Unfortunately, we’ll never know. However, it is certain that America’s unwillingness to regard itself objectively prevents the nation from reaching its full potential.
“He who lives with untruth lives in spiritual slavery.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King’s words encourage and challenge us to seek the truth at all times. For without truth, there can be no reconciliation.
Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten. A society is always eager to cover misdeeds with a cloak of forgetfulness, but no society can fully repress an ugly past when the ravages persist into the present.
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967)
Though I have attended numerous programs honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., including panel discussions, political forums, dramatic presentations and church services, King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis remains my favorite way to remember him. I used to look forward to watching this documentary on the local PBS station every year. Due to issues with the King estate, however, the broadcast rights became unavailable and the film disappeared. Fortunately, the uncut, 185-minute version is screened occasionally – especially around the King Holiday and now throughout Black History Month.
King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis chronicles Dr. King’s life and the civil rights movement from the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 to his assassination in 1968. Watching the nonviolent protests that I had previously only heard and read about, I couldn’t and still cannot even begin to imagine the courage, commitment and self-control of those – many whose names we will never know – who willingly faced racial hostility in the forms of verbal and physical assaults, incarceration and sometimes death. Recalling those warriors for justice and their sacrifices keeps in perspective how far we have come and how far we still have to go.
The documentary also offers glimpses of Dr. King not usually seen by the general public. Insightful moments include Dr. King playfully saying, “Give me some sugar,” as he hugged a young admirer, and his humorous account of Rev. Abernathy praying with his eyes open during a riotous confrontation in Philadelphia, Mississippi. It is particularly poignant to see Dr. King celebrate what would be his final birthday.
Whether it’s your first time or if it has been a long while, I strongly recommend that you see King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis. If the film is not being shown in your area, the good news is that it is now available for purchase at http://afilmedrecord.com. However you choose to view the film, it is well worth the extra effort.