Like many other Jewish-American families, we do Chinese food and a movie on Christmas day. This year the movie we saw was “Selma”, about the voting rights march from Selma, Alabama to the state capitol in Montgomery in 1965. The film does a marvelous job of portraying the wrenching discussions and decisions that had to be made in order to orchestrate that march not only between the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson, but also within the Civil Rights movement itself. Especially now that key provisions of the Voting Rights Act have been gutted it is important to see this film so that we all become part of the movement to restore those provisions.
As some who are reading this may know, I have a Selma marcher in my own family. My wife’s father, Leonard Comess, flew with one of his rabbis, Rabbi Sandy Ragins, and many other rabbis to join the march. It is a proud memory for my wife and children and I consider myself fortunate that Lenny Comess became a father for me, too. We thought a great deal about our father and grandfather as we watched the film. Thanks to Lenny’s recollections of his journey, we knew how real the struggle was and the courage it took for people to choose to participate. Lenny once told me that the most frightening part of the trip was the taxi ride back to the airport. The cab driver was unabashedly opposed to Blacks attaining equal rights and was unrestrained in expressing his opinions about the Civil Rights Movement overall and the Selma to Montgomery March in particular. Lenny was the only passenger in the car and, completely atypically, did not engage with the driver. He just shook us head and mumbled, “Uh huh”. I thought about Lenny in that cab in particular during the scene in the film in which white ministers (between the second aborted attempt and the march itself) were attacked with clubs by Ku Klux Klansmen. “The worst injured was James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston. Selma’s public hospital refused to treat Rev. Reeb, who had to be taken to Birmingham’s University Hospital, two hours away. Reeb died on Thursday, March 11 at University Hospital with his wife by his side.” (Wikipedia Article).
When my kids were young, I wrote them a song to honor their grandfather’s values and courage. A few weeks before he died, Lenny was in the recording studio with me and a group of incredible singers. Helen Nightengale and Dana Ross created a great video documenting the day. You can WATCH AND LISTEN HERE.