I wrote about this documentary earlier. It’s a terrific series from PBS. So far I’ve finished three episodes, or half the run.
It’s really something to see video of people saying such hateful things so openly, so recently. Especially in the South. Students at Little Rock’s Central High chanting they would not integrate. The governor of Alabama calling the Freedom Riders agitators and outsiders. Most people with any social skills whatsoever have learned not to say those things out loud anymore, but to point obliquely instead, using coded language. It really wasn’t long ago at all, though, that presidential candidates sought the racist vote transparently.
Oh, wait. It happened in 2016.
I grew up on the lie that the Civil Rights Movement succeeded and is over. It is both dissonant and monstrously harmonious to watch these clips today.
It’s also something to see video of people who knew Emmett Till talking about the danger he didn’t understand he was in. It’s something to see Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking in a church as a mob gathered outside. And it is something to watch those students sitting at lunch counters, committed to nonviolence, not knowing if they were about to die. I was struck in particular by the look on the face of one young woman as she turned to see a man who had been on a stool beside her being beaten on the ground. She turned back forward again. She looked unsure, and yet she did not move.
I had to look up John Lewis several times to try to make it fit: the bald Congressman is the same man as this hairy young Freedom Rider? I just learned he has a graphic novel, too. Hey, my birthday’s coming up! How ’bout it, world?
Next up, episode four.
This is a compelling series.