On Feb. 7, the Parents of African American Students organization (PAAS) hosted a private viewing of the movie “Selma” at the AMC Columbia 14 Theater in honor of Black History Month.
“Selma,” which was directed by Ava DuVernay and stars David Oyelowo as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., depicts the events leading up to the famous Selma to Montgomery marches, a turning point in the American Civil Rights Movement.
As of late, the film has earned approximately $50 million in the box office and topped the charts as the number three movie in America during its opening week.
The private viewing also included testimonies by special guest speakers Phillip Hunter, a participant of all three civil rights marches, and Bobby Cobbs, a sharecropper in Selma at the time.
Over a hundred people from the Mt. Hebron, Centennial High School and Compton University communities packed the theater in order to show their support and appreciation for the movement.
Hunter and Cobbs spoke for over an hour, educating those who came about the marches and their effect on people’s lives during the time period.
Hunter, who was 17 at the time of the marches, remembered the events leading up to the movement. “The leaders told us that [we would] probably be tear gassed and brutalized,” he said. For him and the other marchers, Hunter stated that these threats did not persuade him to abandon the cause, but he admitted that he was scared.
“I remember crossing the street to get on the bridge and thinking, ‘I’m going to outrun this tear gas.’” Unfortunately, the gas was launched into the middle of the crowd where he was located. “When the gas hit, I could not see anything. I remember hearing the screams and the cracks of the nightsticks against people,” he added.
Like many other sharecroppers, Cobbs had to deal with landowners setting low market crop prices and high prices for materials. Thus, the profession became a cycle of poverty for many.
As the protests began to heat up, sharecroppers were banned from marching, threatened with being thrown off the farm or bodily harmed. As Cobbs remembered, “Some of the [protesters, particularly sharecroppers] were killed because they got caught marching.”
As it occurred, the 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery was nationally televised and later became known as Bloody Sunday. “Everyone was nervous. We all knew what was going to happen. We just didn’t know how bad it was going to be,” Cobbs said.
Following the traumatic events, Dr. King put out a call to anyone who wanted to join them. As Hunter recalled, “It was an integrated movement. Without the white people we would have never been able to accomplish it.”
“Under the circumstances, yes, we achieved so much,” he firmly added.
The PAAS organization used a percentage of the profits from the event as well as donations collected during the viewing to contribute to a scholarship for African American seniors at Mt. Hebron.
Though the march occurred 50 years ago, its effects still resonate today. Hunter summed up the experience best when he said, “We made history.”