We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Selma (**** out of 4) is ultimately about the hard sacrifices made by ordinary Americans “in order to form [this] more perfect union” mentioned in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. This sometimes means breaking unjust laws to establish justice or insuring domestic tranquility by disturbing the peace. Our nation’s history and the history of humanity in general is filled with such paradoxes in order to ensure the general welfare of our nation and other civilizations do not leave behind oppressed minorities who have historically been discriminated against and denied equal dignity. The blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity have not always been extended to everyone.
When I taught U.S. History and U.S. Government in a diverse high school, my favorite topics to teach were the causes of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. These topics allowed me to build from foundational knowledge and push my students’ thinking to new levels. One of my favorite activities was dissecting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and discussing non-violent protest with my students, pointing out how restrained and strategic agitation could successfully bring white moderates into the fold, forcing politicians to take action. But my favorite question to pose to my students was this: Would you be willing to be spit on, beat up, called numerous vulgar names, and not respond with any violence or hatred in return? If you knew your name wouldn’t be in the history books, would you still be willing to sacrifice your dignity temporarily so that dignity could be recognized by law and fact for yourself and your posterity?
Throughout my history classes, I tried to demythologize the legends from our own history. I tried to teach Lincoln, MLK, and others as the flawed humans they were so that my students could truly appreciate the obstacles they faced, sacrifices they made, brilliance they displayed, and history God gave them the opportunity to shape. I wanted them to know that these men and women were no different from them and that these eras in history required men, women, and children whose names we’ll never know.