Selma, Lord, Selma

Selma, Lord, Selma
Directed by Charles Burnett
Written by Cynthia Whitcomb
Starring Mackenzie Astin
Jurnee Smollett
Clifton Powell
Ella Joyce
Yolanda King
Music by Stephen James Taylor
Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures
Release date
January 17, 1999
Running time
94 min
Country United States
Language English

Selma, Lord, Selma is a 1999 American film based on true events that happened in March 1965, known as Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. The film tells the story through the eyes of an 11-year-old African-American girl named Sheyann Webb (Jurnee Smollett). It was directed by Charles Burnett, one of the pioneers of black American independent cinema. It premiered as a television movie on ABC on January 17, 1999.


Sheyann Webb sees Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. going into Brown Chapel AME Church one day while playing outside with her friends. They are told that Dr. King has come to Selma, Alabama to help the Negro people get voting rights. Sheyann learns many things from Dr. King. He teaches her and her friend Rachel (Stephanie Zandra Peyton) that when asked, "Children, what do you want?" their answer should be "Freedom." He also teaches her that everyone deserves to be treated with fairness, regardless of the color of their skin, and that children also have a battle to fight. Sheyann wants to get involved and skips school to sneak into the meetings. One night a friend of Sheyann's named Jimmie Lee Jackson is killed. To draw attention to the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, it is decided that a 54-mile march to the state capital of Alabama will take place. Marchers will present a petition to Governor Wallace to protest that Negroes are not being treated fairly. On Sunday, March 7, 1965, a day that comes to be called Bloody Sunday, Sheyann and other African-American protesters march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge en route to Montgomery, and are attacked by police. Sheyann is the youngest person to attempt to march.

In August, President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to oversee and enforce constitutional rights of suffrage and prevent discriminatory measures, such as use of literacy tests against potential voters.



Selma, Lord, Selma is based on a book of the same name written in 1980 by Sheyann Webb, Rachel West and Frank Sikora. The full title is Selma, Lord, Selma: Girlhood Memories of the Civil-Rights Days. It was published by the University of Alabama Press in Tuscaloosa, AL. It is written in the style of memoirs by Sheyann and Rachel.[2]

Selma, Lord, Selma was made into a movie. Walt Disney Pictures picked it up and on January 17, 1999, one day prior to the national holiday commemorating Dr. King's birthday, it was broadcast on the ABC television network. Dr. King's daughter Yolanda is featured in the film as Miss Bright, Sheyann's teacher who marches with Sheyann in the back of the march. Music composed by Stephen James Taylor, with vocals by Brides of the Wind.


The Philadelphia Tribune praised the portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Clifton Powell and the "…heart-wrenching performance" by Jurnee Smollett.[3] The Boston Globe criticized it: "…never rises above the level of a Classic Comics version of civil rights history",[4] while The Rocky Mountain News said: "(Selma) …offers a sense of authenticity…".[5]

Awards and nominations

In 1999, Cynthia Whitcomb, the author, was nominated for the Humanitas Prize. The category was Best 90-minute film. The winner was NYPD Blue. Selma, Lord, Selma also was nominated for an Image Award in 2000. The category was Outstanding Television Movie/Miniseries/Dramatic Special.

See also


  1. In 1965, the actual sheriff of Dallas County, Alabama (which includes the city of Selma) was Jim Clark.
  3. "Selma, Lord, Selma: Disney remembers King; Movie tracks struggle for voting rights". The Philadelphia Tribune. Philadelphia, PA. January 15, 1999.   via HighBeam (subscription required)
  4. Koch, John (January 16, 1999). "`Selma' tale oversimplifies rights drama". The Boston Globe. Boston, MA.   via HighBeam (subscription required)
  5. Saunders, Dusty (January 17, 1999). "Areas of Beleaguered Wonderful Disney". Rocky Mountain News. Denver, CO.   via HighBeam (subscription required)
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