Visual depiction

Striking sanitation workers holding placards in Memphis, 1968. (1)

This visual depicts a protest of workers. To add, it depicts the sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis in 1968. At that time, nearly half of the population of Memphis was black. They endured horrible conditions in the sanitation department as well as little wages and inequality between the races. Eventually, after the death of a worker, over 1,000 workers refused to work. This event, later supported by Martin Luther King Jr., is a very large step in the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. supported the protest, but he was assassinated while in Memphis. This event also portrays the brutalities of the authorities, when the police tried to break off the strike with maces and bloody violence. The march paid off and eventually, workers’ unions were created to improve conditions. However, the racial gap is still visible, as workers do not receive sufficient payments to live through pension. The slogan of the protest, “I Am A Man”, was to become a rampant saying across the US.


Notions

The Civil Rights era

Civil Rights Movements

Civil rights movements began to gain popularity in the 20th century, especially in the 1950s and 60s. Its main goal was to grant equal rights to colored people, as slavery was abolished, but discrimination continued. Many other movements also were active during the period, such as women’s rights and giving Native Americans the same treatment as white people. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Women’s Suffrage were the two major movements, but there were plenty more. American Indian Movement, for example, had a goal of making people aware of the living conditions of the natives, especially after the Wounded Knee Incident, involving troops massacring Indians. Grey Liberation wanted to liberate the elderly from social discrimination. To add, the Chicano Movement focused on Mexicans and preventing racism against them. These movements were more active in the southern states, because people were less tolerant towards other races or ethnicities and laws made living even harder for black people than in the North. A Supreme Court ruling in 1896 declared that blacks’ and whites’ facilities would be ‘separate but equal’. This meant that white and black people would go to different schools, use different toilets and sit on a different section on a bus.

Brown vs. Topeka

The Supreme Court case between Oliver Brown and the Board of Education of Topeka in 1954 is considered to be a landmark achievement towards the Civil Rights Movement. Mr. Brown wanted to put her daughter Linda to a white elementary school, but he was rejected. In response, he sued the Board of Education of Topeka to court. His arguments were that the government spends more money on white kids (38$) than on black kids (13$) and that coloured schools do not give the same quality of education than white schools do. He argued, that the segregation was in direct conflict with the 14th Amendment, the ‘equal protection clause’. Other families also sued the school. The final verdict was that the principle ‘separate but equal’ is not valid in education and segregation in unconstitutional, however, it was not stated how should the integration process happen. Even today, the gap of schools is visible, as the local neighborhood supports a schools and eventually, richer neighborhoods have rich schools and poorer regions have poorer education.

Nettie Hunt and her daughter Nickie sitting in front of the Supreme Court after the decision. (2)

Little Rock Nine

The Little Rock Nine was a group of nine black students, who attended a formerly all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. After the Supreme Court ruling, local governments were given power to start integrating schools and students together. The president of the Arkansas NAACP thoroughly selected 9 pupils, who would attend Central High School. However, governor Orval Faubus declared, that he would deploy the Arkansas National Guard to prevent black students entering the school. On September 4 1957 the Little Rock Nine went to school. Troops prevented the entry of the students. For many weeks students protested against integration and police officers had to escort the group to school. The Little Rock Nine had to endure physical and mental violence throughout their school year and only 1 of the 9 members of the group, Ernest Green, finished the school and received a diploma. Afterwards Faubus closed the schools and held a public vote, where most residents refused integration of schools. For their brave efforts towards the civil rights movement, the group received the Congressional Gold Medal.

Elizabeth Eckford walking to Little Rock Central High School in 1957. (3)

The role of Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks was a colored American, who got famous after an incident on a bus. In 1955 Rosa Parks rode a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. The bus was full and a white man turned towards Parks in the colored section to ask for a seat. Parks denied the request, which was against standards at that time, but she was not the first one to refuse a seat to a white person. Later, two officers arrested Parks, only to be released a day later. The trial against Rosa Parks ended with her having to pay 14$ in fines. The incident sparked another event, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by Reverend Martin Luther King jr, the elected President of the Montgomery Improvement Association. The boycott lasted for about a year and ended after the US Supreme Court ruled segregation on buses as unconstitutional. In 1999 Rosa Parks received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award to a civilian, for her actions and bravery, having lost her job and enduring harassment for a year. Later she earned the nickname ‘the mother of the civil rights movement’.

Rosa Parks arrested for refusing to give up her seat. (4)

NAACP, Jim Crow and disenfranchisement

The NAACP, or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is an organization against inequalities between blacks and whites. It was founded in 1909 and it is the oldest civil rights organization. The movement was one of the most influential movement in the 20th century. It organized both peaceful and violent protests against segregation and unequal rights to the coloured. The association organized famous events, like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington. These events led to pressuring the government to take action on segregation and in 1964, a year after the march, the government signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Act. Today, NAACP has approximately 500,000 members worldwide. The Jim Crow laws are a set of laws in the southern states, which allowed segregation. It stated, that there are to be different facilities for the colored and white people. It also prohibited interracial marriage and there were severe penalties for those, who tried to disobey them. Disenfranchisement means to take away basic rights from a community of people. For example, women were not allowed to vote.

The logo of NAACP. (5)

March on Washington, the role of Martin Luther King

The March on Washington was a massive protest in 1963 in the center of Washington D.C. Around 250,000 gathered near the Lincoln Memorial to listen the iconic speech from Martin Luther King, dubbed the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Martin Luther King Jr. also arranged the Montgomery Bus Boycott and founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), devoted to bring equality to black people with peaceful protests. He delivered the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, which is mostly believed to be improvised. He played a huge factor towards the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Eventually, he was named “Man of the Year” and received the Nobel Peace prize, the youngest receiver of the trophy. He supported a sanitation workers’ strike in 1968 in Memphis, when he was assassinated.

Martin Luther King Jr. addressing the crown in Washington in 1963. (6)

Loving vs Virginia case

The Loving vs Virginia case marked the end of Jim Crow laws in 1963-1967. It was between Mildred and Richard Loving against the state of Virginia. In that state interracial marriage was illegal by law. A month after Richard and Mildred married in 1958, policemen arrested them and a judge sentenced them to a year in prison, replaced by leaving Virginia and not returning for the next 25 years. To help the couple, the American Civil Liberties Union agreed to help them. Again, the main argument of the plaintiff was the 14th Amendment, mentioning equal laws for everyone. The final ruling in 1967 claimed that the interracial marriage law is unconstitutional and with 16 US states, the ban was lifted.

Mildred and Richard Loving in 1965, before filing a suit. (7)

Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965

When President Kennedy came to power in 1961, he wanted to make anti-discrimination laws, but withdrew from them. A couple of years later in Birmingham, Alabama, many peaceful protesters were beaten up by the police. Kennedy decided to propose the act to Congress. His successor Lyndon Johnson followed the former president’s path and the act passed the House of Representatives and the Senate. The act proclaimed that segregation is prohibited in public rooms and no more can facilities differ people by race nor by religion. Soon after, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, allowing African-American citizens to vote. These two acts are considered to be the most important achievements in legislation in US history.

President Johnson shaking hands with M. L. King while signing the Civil Rights Act. (8)

Black Power movement, Black Panther Party

The Black Power movement was an organization in the 1960s and 70s. It was a social and economical movement to create more institutions for black people in the US. It also supported equal rights towards them. The movement empowered blacks across the US, raising their self-identity and nonviolent behavior to solve problems. The Black Panther Party was a political association to counter against illegal brutality against African-Americans. It arranged armed patrols in cities and even the FBI tried to weaken their organization. Eventually, many Black Panthers were killed by police and the party dissolved in 1982.


Historical accuracy

The movie “The Help” describes the scenery of 1960s Mississippi, where black maids worked in affluent homes. During the period of Jim Crow laws, a young journalist named Skeeter interviews several maids to get another viewpoint towards the society and the hierarchy in the South. The program shows the progressive Civil Rights Movement just gaining speed and the segregated mindsets of rich society leaders. The film was released in 2011 and it illustrates the complications of communities in the southern states quite well. There are also some historical references shown in the program, which illustrate the situation of the region.

The background of the scenery is very accurate and the society at that time is illustrated quite well. The movie’s protagonists were African-American servants and maids, who had to live in the segregated state of Mississippi. Segregation and the principle of ‘separate, but equal’ remained on a high place. For example, maids could not use the same toilets as white people used and they had to sit on separate sections on a bus. This left the maids in a very dangerous situation, where if someone were to meet a white person, it would be very offensive towards whites and blacks. However, a critic mentions: “The maids who tell Skeeter their stories speak of the risks they are taking, but the sense of physical danger that hovered over the civil rights movement is mostly absent.”(1) I agree with this opinion and that the real threat of meeting a white journalist as a black maid was not fully covered.

The movie itself is based on a novel written by Kathryn Stockett, which was published in 2009. The plot was not changed with the cinematic version. While the book received ovations and praisals from delighted critics, the film angered the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH), who criticised the movie’s stereotype of a maid. They had written: “The Help’s representation of these women is a disappointing resurrection of Mammy—a mythical stereotype of black women who were compelled, either by slavery or segregation, to serve white families.”(2) For me, the stereotype was rather apparent, as in the program many maids were willing and even wanted to go to serve other families. The truth is that the employment opportunities for black women were narrowed down due to segregation and racism. I felt that the film left the impression, that ‘the help’ wanted to go serve white families, as in reality, they often faced hard labour and low wages.

To conclude, ‘The Help’ gave a meticulous oversight of the situation in the South. It also depicted the segregated society, almost like a caste-system. However, the movie had difficulties portraying the obstacles of the servants. I think that even though it is entirely fictional, the show illustrates the era as truly as it can.

References

Visual sources

(1) Striking sanitation workers holding placards in Memphis, 1968. Source: daily.jstor.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/I_am_a_man_workers_strike_1050x700.jpg

(2) Nettie Hunt and her daughter Nickie sitting in front of the Supreme Court after the decision. Source: external-preview.redd.it/R5uAkM8n_KDrwbyUSHVeQkjt7Pz8FGh7R8a9HDOmElw.jpg?width=960&crop=smart&auto=webp&s=a971c9d7f9c636f57cd661021d3dfec15184fdad

(3) Elizabeth Eckford walking to Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Source: allthatsinteresting.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/elizabeth-ekford-hazel-bryan.jpg

(4) Rosa Parks arrested for refusing to give up her seat. Source: www.biography.com/.image/t_share/MTE4MDAzNDEwMzQyNzQxNTE4/image-title1.jpg

(5) The logo of NAACP. Source: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/0/0f/NAACP_seal.svg/1200px-NAACP_seal.svg.png

(6) Martin Luther King Jr. addressing the crown in Washington in 1963. Source: imagesvc.timeincapp.com/v3/mm/image?url=https%3A%2F%2Ftimedotcom.files.wordpress.com%2F2017%2F01%2Fmlk.jpeg&w=800&c=sc&poi=face&q=85

(7) Mildred and Richard Loving in 1965, before filing a suit. Source: timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/lovings.jpeg

(8) President Johnson shaking hands with M. L. King while signing the Civil Rights Act. Source: cdn.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/hsh1cKXK2n-BB9lql4kygpA69dw=/0x115:2039×1644/920×613/filters:focal(0x115:2039×1644):format(webp)/cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_image/image/35119362/2695533.0.jpg

Used reviews

(1) George, N. (2011) ‘Black-and-White Struggle With a Rosy Glow’, The New York Times, New York, August 9. Available at: www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/movies/black-and-white-struggle-through-hollywoods-rosy-glow.html?_r=1 [Accessed 1.06.2019]

(2) (2012) ‘History and The Help’, Harvard University Press, 24 February. Available at:
harvardpress.typepad.com/hup_publicity/2012/02/history-and-the-help.html [Accessed 1.06.2019]

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