Posted by Mary Hendra on January 7, 2015

The film Selma opens across the nation this week. It is a powerful story of the Civil Rights Movement through a critical moment and place.

SelmaOne of the things that really stuck with me when several of us from Facing History had the opportunity to see the film and hear from a number of those involved in creating it, was the specific decision to focus and name the place - Selma - rather than centering the film only on a single individual. In doing so, they present more clearly the power of individual choices by so many people.

As I watched, I found myself pondering...

  • how far have we come? how far do we still need to go?
  • how did current events impact the creation of this film?
  • how would I use this with students if I were still in the classroom?

The first two questions were part of our conversation immediately after viewing the film, and would be great discussion prompts with students as well. That last one can be tricky when a film like this first comes out. It can't be shown in a classroom right away, but some students will undoubtedly see it in theaters. With Selma, I would be tempted to use the music as a way of bringing the film into the classroom, specifically the song, "Glory," which plays over the final credits.

Like the film, "Glory" brings in the choices of individuals - us.

No one can win the war individually
It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people's energy

Selma may subtly hint at contemporary legacies. "Glory" does so more directly and explicitly, describing seeking justice and acts of resistance with the phrases:

That's why Rosa sat on the bus
That's why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up

John Legend described his vision for the sense of this song as "magestic." He wanted something that would be hopeful, while recognizing that we're not there yet. That balance can be tricky to achieve. It is easy to become disheartened when looking critically at historical moments. Being hopeful is sometimes associated with a naivety. In truth, it is by developing a deeper and more nuanced understanding that we can build a stronger and more lasting hope.

One day, when the GLORY comes
It will be ours, it will be ours
One day, when the war is won
We will be sure, we will be here sure

Tools for using music in the classroom:

  • Several literacy protocols can work particularly well with lyrics, and with "Glory." Click here for the strategy Text-Text, Text-Self, Text-World Connections.
  • Journalling in connection with music can also be a great tool. One option is a "Lifted line" response: have students select a particular phrase that strikes them and then answer questions such as, "What is interesting about this phrase? What ideas does it make you think about? What questions does this line raise for you?" Click here for other ways to use journals
  • Click here to read more about the stories behind Selma from our sister blog, Facing Today.

Topics: Civil Rights Movement, Film, Choosing to Participate, In the news

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