Within the glorious spectacle of the movie Selma, with its heart-stopping images, invigorating pacing and indelible performances, lies a phrase that lingers long after the credits roll.
President Lyndon Johnson said it during a landmark civil rights speech he made on March 15, 1965. Treat yourself to a reading of this masterful piece of writing today.
“Rarely in any time does an issue lay bare the secret heart of America itself.”
We wondered as we drove home from the movie, each stunned into ineloquence as we attempted to absorb what we had just seen, what lies within the secret heart of America.
Is she “the vast and quarrelsome family” that “will rise in defense of all that we cherish” as described by Leonard Pitts in his Pulitzer Prize winning column, published on Sept. 12, 2001?
I’d like to think so.
I hope the ease with which we take our stands today — the hashtags, painted fingernails, purple hair extensions, and charity walks — mitigates neither the impact nor the sincere intent.
I pray the secret heart of America pulses with patriotism and pride, empathy and strength.
Would I link arms and march toward a raised billy club in defense of a cause I held dear?
From the bottom of my own secret heart, I hope I’d be that brave.
They did it in Selma, over and over again — people like Jimmy Lee Jackson, who tried for four years to register to vote, then died in the fight that eventually earned his 84-year old grandfather Cager Lee that privilege; and Reverend James Reeb, a Boston area man who became an unlikely martyr for the cause.
Defining the secret heart of America requires the sometimes uncomfortable task of examining it. Are we the angry agitator? The looter? The police office? The slam poet? The proud student? The graffiti artist? The dignified retiree? The preacher? The athlete? The Wall Street trader? The worried parent? The immigrant? The business owner? The truck driver? The child?
Today, let’s honor Martin Luther King by looking within our secret hearts and rooting out what’s troubling us there.
Then, let’s link our arms and march toward a stronger nation.