New documentary highlights Selma high school students’ role in voting rights effort

New documentary highlights Selma high school students’ role in voting rights effort
August 06
00:00 2015

In above photo: The crowd at the Hanesbrands Theatre. (Photo by Donna Rogers)

The 1965 Voting Rights Act was signed into law on Aug. 6, 1965.

The movie “Selma” focuses on events that led to the signing of the Voting Rights Act.

The movie “Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot” does too, but it focuses on the participation of high school students and teachers in the events leading to the law.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society, presented a screening of its 40-minute documentary, “Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot” Thursday evening, July 30, at Hanesbrands Theatre, 209 Spruce St N. in Winston-Salem.

SPLC says Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer narrates the 40-minute documentary.

The film is being shown now to help mark the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

Elizabeth Spears, regional advancement director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said, “We think young people need to know their part in the story.”

She said the movie is being marketed under the Teaching Tolerance division of the SPLC.

The DVD is free for those who go to and register with the organization, which wants middle and high school students and teachers especially to see the documentary.

The Teaching Tolerance project combats prejudice among the nation’s youth while promoting equality, inclusiveness and equitable learning environments in the classroom.

The movie provides a look into the Civil Rights Movement from the eyes of high school students and their teachers in Selma.

Young student organizers –16- and 17-year-olds – became members of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and were trained in strategy by adults.

A fact that has not been highlighted in previous documentaries is that students and teachers in Selma, Alabama, and nearby counties walked out of school to protest and attempt to register to vote.

More than a thousand students and scores of teachers participated over two years leading up to the signing of the Voting Rights Act.

Also, independent business people, such as beauticians and undertakers, protested.

Most of these people were arrested, even the students, and had to spend time in jail.

High school students took part in the historic marches designed to take protesters from Selma to the capital of Alabama, Montgomery.

Only one succeeded, and the students were among the 25,000 people who celebrated as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the Capitol in Montgomery.

Linda Sutton, Central Piedmont Organizer for Democracy North Carolina and co-founder of the Winston-Salem Voting Rights Coalition, was the facilitator for a discussion after the screening.

She spoke about the voting-rights trial in federal court in Winston-Salem, N.C. NAACP vs, McCrory.

The trial ended Friday, July 31.

Sutton urged those in the audience to get involved in working for voter rights and the election process.

She named several ways people can get involved:

*Help to make online voter registration a reality.

*Become a watchdog at Board of Election meetings and explain any election problems at voting places to the board.

*Become a poll worker inside a polling place or an election protection worker outside a polling place.

*Meet with elected officials in Raleigh about voting rights.

*Help to encourage 18 year olds to register and vote.

*Help to get people to the polls to vote.

*Work with phone banks, encouraging people to vote.

*Form registration drives or help people register to vote.

“I encourage you to get involved where you are,” Sutton said.

After the discussion, audience member Rose Marie Norman said: “We hear things, we think we know things, but we really don’t. We have to revisit, even as old people. I don’t think we understand the impact of the restrictions of the new law [the 2013 N.C. voting rights law].

“I’m not at risk in terms of the photo ID [part of the 2013 law], and that makes a difference. We don’t always, to be honest, think about that person who doesn’t have it, don’t think about the money [needed to obtain the official ID]. We take so much for granted, but we need to be reminded that in order to make things happen, we’re going to need all of us.”

The documentary “Selma: Bridge to the Ballot” will be shown again at the Winston-Salem Urban League, 201 W. 5th St., on Friday, Aug. 7 at 9:30 a.m.

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Donna Rogers

Donna Rogers

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