Martin Luther King Jr. has his own national holiday, but when people celebrate his life and contributions to the civil rights movement, his 1963 March on Washington—which included his “I Have a Dream” speech—receives the lion’s share of the attention. While that majestic speech rightfully deserves praise, it lives forever as an aspiration, hovering above the actual struggle that defined King’s achievements. The film Selma, which opened in a few theaters on Dec. 25 and will expand wide on Jan. 9, examines one of the most tense and pivotal moments in King’s life and the civil rights movement: the proposed march from Selma, Ala., to the state capitol of Montgomery to protest the systematic disenfranchisement and intimidation of African-Americans in the South.
Though blacks had legally had the right to vote since the 15th Amendment became law after the Civil War, Jim Crow laws and segregationist Southern-state governments had put up barriers to minorities who tried to register to vote. In 1965, after King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference a...
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