N.J. teens feel impact of Dr. King's civil rights movie

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on January 19, 2015

Trae Daniels, right, with his father, Steve, after watching “Selma,’’ a movie about voting rights protests under the leadership of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Daniels was among 50 students from Jersey City who were treated to a free screening of the film by the city's recreation department.


The historical civil rights movie wasn’t even 10 minutes old before it scared Trae Daniels.

He didn’t expect to see four little girls, decked out in their Sunday best, die in the blink of an eye when their church was bombed in Birmingham, Ala.

Daniels leaned over toward his dad, Steve, wondering if they had gone to the wrong theater at Newport Centre Mall in Jersey City

“Is this a horror flick,’’ said the father, recalling what his 15-year-old son asked him.

“I said no. I had to explain to him real quick that actually happened.’’

The terrorist act by the Ku Klux Klan in 1963 blasted its way onto the screen as the Daniels family watched “Selma,” a must see film depicting how the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. fought southern white oppression and deadly violence to deny blacks the right to vote.

This is how a father and son spent Saturday morning to honor and learn more about the man who was assassinated in 1968. King was 39, but his life’s work during a tumultuous period in American history will be celebrated today in scores of tributes and observances to commemorate his birthday.

Many across the state will also watch the movie today like Daniels, who was among 50 Jersey City students who were treated to the film by the city’s recreation department.

The church bombing, like many other disturbing scenes, was a defining moment for the high school freshman. Daniels had basic working knowledge about King, but he didn’t realize what the civil rights giant was up against in Selma, Ala. when trying to convince President Lyndon Johnson to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

“I read about it and heard about it, but I actually never seen nothing like that,’’ he said. “It got to me real bad.’’

Ten year-old Nashiloh Allen said he was familiar with the era, but was still stunned to see such resistance for a basic human right when the church exploded.

“That hurt me,’’ he said. “I was like ‘oh my god,’ I wasn’t expecting that.’’

At the time, the 16th Street Baptist Church was a rally point for meetings, making it a target when King and other civil rights leaders gathered there to organize. When they reached Selma, the campaign to keep blacks from voting escalated as students and parents in the theater watched police officers beat 400 peaceful demonstrators on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

The attack, captured on television, became widely known as "Bloody Sunday" on March 7, 1965. It shocked the nation and moved thousands to march with King from Selma to Montgomery when he called on Americans to join the fight for equality.

The brutality, however, didn’t rattle Charles Thomas, a 16-year-old sophomore, who said it didn’t seem like much has changed in 50 years.

“It’s the same thing that’s happening now,’’ he said,

For instance, George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2012. The 17-year-old black teenager was on his way home from the store in Florida when Zimmerman, who is white, followed him. A fight ensued and Martin was shot dead.

Last year, Eric Garner, an unarmed 43-year-old black man, died after a white New York City police officer restrained him with a chokehold in July. One month later, Michael Brown, an unarmed 18 year-old teenager, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer.

The grand jury in both cases did not hand down indictments, which sparked demonstrations calling for justice in the same manner as civil rights leaders in the movie.

When the film ended, Daniels said he was glad that his father got him out of bed Saturday. He wanted to sleep late instead, but he told his history teach that he would be going with his father on the city sponsored trip.

“I told him you’re committed to it, so let’s go,’’ his father said.

“I think all of our young men should see movies like this so they can see the struggle and maybe we can come together as one and stop this senseless killing among each other.’’

Joshua Satterwhite, 14, didn’t want any parts of the movie, but his mother,
Sylvia Escoffery, made sure it was on their “to do” list. She wanted him to see the sacrifices made for things he takes for granted such as eating in a restaurant

“I thought it was going to be one of those boring historical films,’’ he said.

He was wrong.

It kept his attention from beginning to end.

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