2014 December 31

Acclaimed Film “Selma” Provokes Controversy over President Johnson, Other Issues


The acclaimed film Selma, about the historic 1965 voting rights campaign in Selma, Alabama, provoked controversy over the role of President Lyndon Johnson and other issues. On the Selma campaign, see the infamous beatings of civil rights marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on “Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965; President Johnson’s historic voting rights speech in March 15, 1965; and the signing of the historic Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965.

The film portrays President Johnson as being hesitant about seeking a voting rights law and not supporting the Selma campaign. Most historians, however, argue that while Johnson was indeed hesitant in late 1964 (mainly because he thought the south needed to adjust to the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act, he changed his mind by early 1965. The best evidence is Johnson’s phone call the Martin Luther King on King’s birthday, January 15, 1965, in which he explicitly encouraged King to mobilize public support for a voting rights bill. The phone call was tape-recorded and transcripts are widely available in many books on Selma, King, and Johnson.

Additional erupted when Selma was almost completely ignored at the 2015 Academy Awards ceremony.

Read: David Garrow, Protest at Selma: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (1978)

Don’t Miss the Acclaimed Film: Selma (2015)

Read the monumental Three-Volume biography of Dr. King by Taylor Branch: Parting the Waters (1998); Pillar of Fire (1998); At Canaan’s Edge (2006)

Learn more: Ari Berman, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America (2015)


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