(Note: a luta continua, a Portuguese phrase, translated, the struggle continues, originally a rallying cry of Mozambique’s 1960s-70s independence movement, over time has been employed by a number of activists for a variety of emancipation causes.)
In March 1965, marchers, led by Martin Luther King, Jr., journeyed over 50 miles on foot from Selma to Montgomery and the Alabama State Capitol building in a non-violent demonstration against voter registration discrimination against African American citizens. That same month, President Lyndon Baines Johnson presented legislation, which, on August 6, he would sign into law as the Voting Rights Act (VRA), to a joint session of Congress, saying:
Even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause, too, because it is not just Negroes but really it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.
Though I continue to pray, “we shall overcome” all vestiges of prejudice, Johnson’s words that strike within me a more resonant chord of truth, are these: “The battle will not be over.”
On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court issued its decision on Shelby County v. Holder. The Court, voting 5-4, overturned key provisions of the VRA that required federal approval and oversight of changes in state election laws. The Court split along what some hold to be an ideological line. I call it a chasm; an ever-widening gulf in assessments of the history and current state of race in America. It was the opinion of the Court majority that racial minorities no longer encounter barriers to voting in states with histories of discrimination. It is my experience and observation that racism – learned negative perceptions of and projections on another people accompanied by power in the denial of advantages and opportunities – is a consistent element of human nurture, if not nature; thus, requiring constant vigilance to oppose its influence. Hence, siding with the Court minority, I affirm the admonition of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who likened the revisions to the VRA as “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
A luta continua.
On Sunday, February 22, 2015, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) held the 87th annual Oscar Awards. Selma, the dramatic movie based on the 1965 march and surrounding events, was nominated for Best Picture. However, no other nominations were forthcoming for anyone associated with the critically acclaimed film, among them, Ava DuVernay, director, and David Oyelowo, cast in the role of Martin Luther King, Jr. Some viewed the omission as revealing an AMPAS racial bias. I believe that an appraisal of what constitutes art and artistic merit is personal and individual, thus, like beauty, ever is in the eye of the beholder. Still, I wonder how expansive and inclusive in perception is the body of over 6,000 AMPAS voters, which largely is white and male.
A luta continua.