- The Shadow of Selma ed. by Joe Street and Henry Knight Lozano
The release of Ava DuVernay's 2014 movie Selma galvanized the nation as it watched the events of the past flash across the big screen. Moviegoers witnessed the trials-turned-victories of decades of activism. The film served as a sobering reminder of the beauty and burden of racial politics and voting rights, as well as of the brutality of the civil rights movement. Despite the relatively small geographical space that the city of Selma, Alabama, occupies, its place in history captures the full stage. Since the release of Selma, film critics, academics, and laymen have had their fair share of praise and criticism of the film. [End Page 509] The Shadow of Selma is a well-researched and balanced work on the film, the city, and the key players of the civil rights movement.
Editors Joe Street and Henry Knight Lozano provide a comprehensive analysis of both the film and the activities surrounding the events of Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. They look beyond the lens of accommodation and further complicate the discussion of class, religion, geography, media, and popular culture. The bulk of the volume is concentrated on the actual city of Selma and the voting rights campaign, where the rising tide of protest manifested itself the most. This small southern city and the relatively short Edmund Pettus Bridge are used to discuss the often disjointed acts of resistance performed by black people during the height of the civil rights movement. This vantage highlights the shifts in community development during this period and demonstrates how the movement in Selma existed on different planes, had various leaders, took on multiple forms, and was inextricably tied to the larger narrative of the civil rights movement.
The Shadow of Selma is separated into three parts. The first section, "Selma and the Voting Rights Act," is composed of six chapters covering grassroots activism, the historical significance of the bridge, the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon B. Johnson, white backlash, and international influence on the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Part 2, "Media and Memory," focuses on the use of domestic and international images to tell a larger story of struggle. The authors draw on a wide range of sources, from newspaper clippings to popularized images of the era, and discuss the imagery used in the film Selma. Finally, Part 3 of the volume, "The Myth of a Color-Blind America," provides statistical data and court records to explore the overt attempts made in the present era to minimize the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act.
The history of mass resistance in the twentieth century is oftentimes blanketed with tales of great white heroes and black and brown victims. The Shadow of Selma stresses that black southern leaders had agency and challenged Jim Crow in the 1960s. The authors argue that the numerous laws passed during this period were a response to elevated forms of resistance and the interpretations of mass media, and not simply because of the president.
The Shadow of Selma also addresses many dated beliefs about the civil rights movement and the influence of grassroots organizers, Martin Luther King Jr., and white demagogues on the proposed civil rights legislation. In many ways, this collection stresses the fact that despite the criticism that organizers received—even from members of their own race—they continued to use their bodies to demonstrate their discontent with inequality in America. Many fought back in silence, while others engaged in legal battles, sit-ins, public rallies, and printed publications. Although many forms of resistance and protest could be found throughout the black community, some have argued that the overabundance of strife within the movement contributed to its presumed decline. Yet many contributors to The Shadow of Selma stress that it was not failure in the traditional sense of the word, but instead that the movement led to a revolution, years in the making.