Millions of Americans try to find an appropriate way to observe Martin Luther King Day each year. Here's one: Take a young person who is old enough to understand to see
. Or go by yourself or with a group to be reminded of why this nation set aside a day to commemorate the murdered civil rights leader.
Much has been made of the film's apparent inaccuracies, which in truth are more akin to literary license, such as depicting conversations that actually happened but were not recorded. And none of the discrepancies are so egregiously out of kilter with the historical record that a viewer would not come away with an acceptable appreciation of where this country was and where it is now when it comes to racial discrimination.
One of the film's harshest critics has been Joseph Califano, who was President Lyndon B. Johnson's domestic policy adviser in 1965, when the Selma-to-Montgomery march took place. He believes the movie unfairly depicts Johnson as opposing the march. But he cannot deny that Johnson, who at the time was preoccupied with how badly the Vietnam War was going, wanted King to be more patient.
An undisputed account of Johnson's meeting with King two days before the march appears in At Canaan's Edge, the last installment of Taylor Branch's authoritative history of the civil rights movement. He notes that Johnson and King agreed that legislation was preferable to a time-consuming quest for a constitutional amendment to secure black people's voting rights. Branch said King later told reporters that he and Johnson had come "tantalizingly close to a common agenda."
King was not in Selma for what became known as "Bloody Sunday," when Alabama state troopers, Selma police officers, and racist sympathizers attacked black and white marchers during their first attempt to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Selma's reenactment of the beating of a young John Lewis, now a venerated Georgia congressman, provides some understanding of why older African Americans might view police officers with suspicion. Unfortunately, many younger blacks have developed that attitude as well.
In that regard, a mass rally and march planned for King Day in Philadelphia was inspired by recent protests across the country following the deaths of two black men killed in altercations with white police officers in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y. Organizers say the event is in tune with the legacy of King, who used nonviolent civil disobedience to open the nation's eyes to what had always been under its nose.
But King's legacy also includes his commitment to helping others, even at the expense of his own life. In that spirit, Philadelphia will host its 20th annual King Day of Service. Organized by the nonprofit group Global Citizen, last year's event saw 125,000 volunteers participate in projects ranging from collecting supplies for schoolchildren to helping the homeless.