State Of The Union 50 Years After SELMA

    State Of The Union ,SELMA , "All life matters," President Obama, Amelia Boynton, Bloody Sunday,  John Lewis,Dr. Martin Luther King ,  Jimmie Lee Jackson, Cager Lee, Jim Clark ,George Junius Stinney, Jr., SOTU,  Ebele Oseye
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Amelia Boynton -- the ancestors are in our bloodstream

It was only a brief moment and late in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday when President Barack Obama mentioned the approaching 50th Anniversary of Selma and the camera turned to a woman who was identified as Amelia Boynton, 103 years old, a survivor of Bloody Sunday, 7 March 1965.

Mrs. Boynton and her husband Sam, as John Lewis recalls in Walking with the Wind, "led the contingent that went to ask Dr. King to come to Selma."

And here she was, seated in a tier high above the president, listening to him speak, a presence for the many who could not be present.  How wonderful it would have been to see the entire assembly recognize her and stand to deliver a thunderous applause.

The assembly did stand to deliver applause when the president referred to our veterans.

Jimmie Lee Jackson, featured in the movie Selma,  was an army man, who survived the war, only to be murdered at home. His grandfather, Cager Lee, would register to vote for the first time at age 84.  In SOTU our president also spoke of current voter suppression laws designed to keep citizens from their constitutional rights.

What a shame that a State of the Union Address delivered in 2015 should still have to observe that women deserve equal pay for equal work.  Women have participated heavily in the struggle. In the movie, Selma, when Dr. King is in jail,  Coretta Scott King is suddenly called upon to assume some responsibilities of leadership.

In a scene when the two women are standing together, Mrs. King admits to Amelia Boynton that she did not feel fully prepared. Mrs. King also expresses a deep admiration, saying that she wished that she were more like Mrs. Boynton, who, had helped to form the Dallas County Improvement Association.

Amelia Boynton reminds Mrs. King that our ancestors gave civilization to the world and assures her friend that those same ancestors are in our bloodstream and that she is "fully prepared."

In one confrontation, the notorious Jim Clark had harshly manhandled Mrs. Boynton, shoving her half a block. This is the same Jim Clark who got into a punching match with a Black woman who gave him a heavy wallop that sent him reeling. That woman was Annie Lee Cooper, played by Oprah Winfrey.

"All life matters," President Obama said at one point, echoing the headlines and cries that come from young demonstrators. We see the sharp contrast in the months of jury selection currently planned for the White man who admits that he shot to death 12 people in a theater and the 1944 three-hour trial followed by a 10 minute deliberation by an all White jury to convict an innocent teen, 14-year-old George Junius Stinney, Jr., whose white lawyer did not present witnesses.

Stinney was so small that he had to sit on a phone book in order to fit the electric chair. This left the true killer free to murder again. He was just exonerated 70 years later.

Congressman John Lewis, who led the march on that Bloody Sunday, and suffered a concussion 50 years ago, was also present during SOTU. His book, Walking with the Wind, written with Michael D'Orso, includes a photograph of Mrs. Amelia Boynton trying to register voters at the Dallas County Courthouse in Selma, February 1965. This is an excellent time to revisit this memoir, first published in 1998.

Our thanks to the Black executives in New York who recognized the capacity of the movie, Selma,  to provide the historical consciousness critical for the survival of our children, and who made it possible for school children to see this film -- to reserve 25 or more tickets:


Ebele Oseye is Professor of African Literature, at Pace University, New York



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