Help (by Maian)

Notions

Civil Rights Movements:

The civil rights movement was a struggle for social justice for blacks to gain equal rights under the law that took place during the 1950s and 1960s in the US. The Civil War had officially abolished slavery, but it didn’t abolish discrimination against blacks. By the mid-20th century, African Americans, who had had more than enough of prejudice and violence against them, and many whites mobilized and began to fight for equality. After the Civil War blacks took on leadership roles like never before. They held public office and sought legislative changes for equality and the right to vote. In 1868, the 14th Amendment gave blacks equal protection under the law. In 1870, the 15th Amendment gave blacks franchise.
(In the South blacks couldn’t use the same public facilities as whites, live in many of the same towns or go to the same schools. Interracial marriage was illegal, and most blacks couldn’t vote because they were unable to pass voter literacy tests. In the North, blacks were discriminated at their jobs or when they tried to buy a house or get an education.)

Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka:

In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that racially segregated public facilities were legal, so long as the facilities for blacks and whites were equal. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was a 1954 Supreme Court case that decided that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. It helped to establish the “separate-but-equal” education and other services (that weren’t actually equal). For the next six decades, Afro-Americans couldn’t share the same buses, schools and other public facilities with whites. Oliver Brown sued the Board of Education of Topeka because his daughter was banned to enter Topeka’s all-white elementary schools.

Little Rock Nine:

The Little Rock Nine were a group of nine black students who enrolled at formerly all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in September 1957. On September 4, 1957, the first day of classes at Central High, Governor Orval Faubus called in the Arkansas National Guard to block the black students’ entry into the high school. Later that month, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in federal troops to escort the Little Rock Nine into the school. Because the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case received a widespread resistance, the court issued a second decision in 1955, known as Brown II. It ordered school districts to integrate “with all deliberate speed.” Because being under pressure, the Little Rock school board adopted a plan for gradual integration of its schools. Despite the virulent opposition, nine students (Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls) registered to be the first African Americans to attend Central High School. The group was carefully vetted and determined they all possessed the strength and determination to face the resistance they would encounter. Few weeks before the beginning of the school year, the Little Rock Nine participated in intensive counselling sessions.


One of the “Little Rock Nine” braves a jeering crowd. 

The role of Rosa Parks:

Rosa Parks got famous by refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus in 1955. With that she helped to initiate the Civil Rights Movement. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was taking a bus home. The white part of the bus was full so the driver asked 4 blacks to give up their seats in order to create one new row for whites. Parks refused to give up her seat and she got arrested (was arrested for over a year). She said: “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I wasn’t tired physically… No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” Parks and Nixon came up with an idea that the blacks of Montgomery would boycott the buses on the day of Parks’ trial. On December 5, Parks was found guilty of violating segregation laws. In December 1943 she joined the Montgomery chapter of NAACP and became the chapter’s secretary.

NAACP, Jim Crow and disenfranchisement:

NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) is America’s oldest and largest civil rights organization and was established in 1909. It was formed in New York City by white and black activists, partially in response to the ongoing violence against African Americans around the country. During the civil rights era, the group won major legal victories. In 1917, 10 000 people in New York City participated in an NAACP-organized silent march to protest lynchings and other violence against blacks. The march was one of the first mass demonstrations in America against racial violence. By 1919, the NAACP had 90 000 members and more than 300 branches. Nowadays the NAACP has more than 2200 branches and some half a million members worldwide.
Jim Crow laws were a collection of state and local statutes that legalized racial segregation. They were named after an insulting song lyric regarding African Americans and were established (in the South) to marginalize blacks, keep them separate from whites and erase the progress they’d made. Blacks couldn’t use the same public facilities as whites, live in many of the same towns or go to the same schools. Interracial marriage was illegal, and most blacks couldn’t vote because they were unable to pass voter literacy tests. Jim Crow laws weren’t adopted in northern states, but they were still discriminated at their jobs or when they tried to buy a house or get an education. The laws existed for about 100 years (from the post-Civil War era until 1968) and were supposed to return Southern states the before war class structure. Blacks that attempted to defy Jim Crow laws often met with violence and death.
Disenfranchisement was based on a series of laws, new constitutions, and practices in the South that were deliberately used to prevent black citizens from voting.

March on Washington, the role of Martin Luther King:

March on Washington (for Jobs and Freedom) was a massive protest march that occurred in August 1963, when 250,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The event’s purpose was to (event aimed to) draw attention to continuing challenges and inequalities faced by African Americans a century after emancipation. With Randolph (head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and an elder statesman of the civil rights movement) planning a march for jobs, and King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) planning one for freedom, the two groups decided to merge their efforts into one mass protest. President John F. Kennedy was afraid that the event would end in violence and was reluctantly endorsing it. The March helped to bring about such landmark legislation as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.
Martin Luther King was a social activist and Baptist minister who played a key role in the American civil rights movement. King sought equality and human rights for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged and all victims of injustice through peaceful protest. He was the Montgomery Bus Boycott’s leader and official spokesman. He was one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a group committed to achieving full equality for African Americans through nonviolent protest. On the March on Washington, he gave his most famous “I have a dream” speech. The speech was a spirited call for peace and equality and many consider it a masterpiece of rhetoric. He improvised his most famous line “And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.” In 1962, at the age of 35, he was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. On the evening of April 4, 1968, he was shot while standing on the balcony of a motel in Memphis.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Loving vs Virginia case:

Loving v. Virginia was a Supreme Court case that annulled state laws that banned interracial marriage. The plaintiffs were Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and black woman whose marriage was deemed illegal according to Virginia state law. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Lovings appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that so-called “anti-miscegenation” statutes were unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. The decision is often cited as a watershed moment in the dismantling of “Jim Crow” race laws.

Mildred and Richard Loving

Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965:

Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex or national origin. It’s considered one of the crowning legislative achievements of the civil rights movement. It was first proposed by President John F. Kennedy, but because it got strong opposition from southern members of Congress, it was signed into law by Kennedy’s successor Lyndon B. Johnson.
Voting Rights Act of 1965 aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented blacks from using their franchise, which was guaranteed to them by the 15th Amendment. It was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. and it aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented blacks from voting. (Blacks attempting to vote often were told by election officials that they had gotten the date, time or polling place wrong, that they possessed insufficient literacy skills or that they had filled out an application incorrectly. Blacks, whose population suffered a high rate of illiteracy due to centuries of oppression and poverty, often would be forced to take literacy tests, which they sometimes failed. Johnson also told Congress that voting officials, primarily in Southern states, had been known to force black voters to “recite the entire Constitution or explain the most complex provisions of state laws,” a task most white voters would have been able to accomplish. In some cases, even blacks with college degrees were turned away from the polls.)

Black Power movement, Black Panther Party:

Black Power movement occurred in the 1960s to 1970s and emphasized racial pride, economic empowerment, and the creation of political and cultural institutions. It grew out from the Civil Rights movement. Black Power activists founded black-owned bookstores, food cooperatives, farms, media, printing presses, schools, clinics and ambulance services.
Black Panther Party was a political organization founded in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale to challenge police brutality against the African American community. The Black Panthers dressed up in black berets and black leather jackets and organized armed citizen patrols of Oakland and other cities. In 1968 the organization had 2000 members. The organization’s philosophical views and political objectives were outlined into a Ten-Point Program that called for an immediate end to police brutality; employment for African Americans; and land, housing and justice for all. It declined as a result of internal tensions, deadly shootouts and FBI counterintelligence activities aimed at weakening the organization.

Black Panthers- Huey Newton and Bobby Seale

Visual

I chose this political cartoon of Jim Crows laws for the Civil Rights Movement. It depicts two white men giving literacy tests to blacks. As we know, during the Civil Rights era, blacks needed to take these complicated literacy test which were part of the Jim Crow laws to prove that they’re worthy of voting. Due to the tests, huge amount of black people in the South couldn’t vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 improved the situation a little because it guaranteed that no legal barriers would impede blacks from voting. The text “BY TH’ WAY, WHAT’S THAT BIG WORD?” shows that uneducated and shortsighted whites could vote, without having to take these literacy tests.
The cartoon is another example of racism and discrimination in the history of the United States.

Review

Skimming through the reviews of this film I was quite surprised to find out that “The Help” needed some help itself with improving its historical aspects.

“At its core the film is a small domestic drama that sketches in the society surrounding its characters but avoids looking into the shadows just outside the frame.” (1)

This was the best review concluding that the film was not very dependent on historical facts. A more harsh review (2) has said: “It traffics in stereotypes and fails to present the complexity of race relations. It downplays both the institutionalized violence (including sexual violence) of southern culture and the Civil Rights movement’s collective resistance to that violence, centering instead on a white heroine and celebrating her limited rebellion against entrenched racism.” I partly agree and think that whilst there is much focus on Hilly and her group, the film majorly lacks mentioning of any reference to the mass struggles that shattered the Jim Crow structure in the South at the time or the assassination of prominent NAACP leader Medgar Evers in Jackson in June 1963 by a white racist, an earth-shattering event in the region. I also found that the film could have pictured the sense of physical danger that occurred during the civil rights movement more clearly. By setting the main focus on the heroic white individual (Skeeter) and her personal response to racism, I think that the film fails to realistically represent the world it narrates. No one wants to create a historically inaccurate novel or film, it only happens when the focus is on other things.

Octavia Spencer (3), who plays black maid Minny, told that the movie isn’t a civil rights movie, but a movie about relationships. Much of the found criticism suggested that more characters, plot elements, and details of place and voice would make it more realistic and therefore better. But I think this could therefore cause a faze in its targeted audience or in the whole story.

It’s said that there are as many different opinions as there are voices. In this case, it is hundred percent true. You can never please everyone. The fact is, it was a great film about relationships.

References:

1. N.George, ‘Black-and-White Struggle With a Rosy Glow’, The New York Times, available at:
https://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/movies/black-and-white-struggle-through-hollywoods-rosy-glow.html, accessed: 02.06.19
2. T.Travis, ‘Is The Help Realistic? It depends,’ Blackpast, available at:
https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/help-realistic-it-depends/, accessed: 02.06.19
3. D.Grossman-Heinze, ‘Review: The Help Trades Historical Accuracy for a Cheery Story,’ Generation Progress, available at:
https://genprogress.org/review-the-help-trades-historical-accuracy-for-a-cheery-story/ , accessed: 02.06.19

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