Days before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Carver Museum celebrates Civil Rights leader’s legacy

Brooke Sjoberg

Last Friday, Movetia Salter watched “Selma” for the first time in the theater of the George Washington Carver Museum and Genealogical Center.

“It was hard, because I was born in Alabama, my family’s from Alabama,” Salter said. “Some of my family participated in some of those marches. It was really difficult to watch, but it was a good message.”

The Carver Museum hosted its annual Martin Luther King Remembrance film screenings on Friday, Jan. 12 in anticipation of the holiday the following Monday. The films screened were “King: Beyond The Dream to Discover The Man”, “Eyes on the Prize: Vol. 5, Power! The Promised Land, America’s Civil Rights Movement” and “Selma.”

The works screened concerning the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr., were not selected at random. Faith Weaver, the Culture and Arts Education Coordinator at the Carver, said these films were selected because they showed King as a man, rather than the monolith of the Civil Rights Movement children have learned about in school. She also said the screenings were intended to inspire those in attendance to join the annual march on the Texas capitol, held on the national holiday to emulate the national march.

“We wanted to look at the story from the real-time versus fictionalization of Dr. King,” Weaver said. “There are so many things that have been written about and made about Dr. King.”

Benson Thottiyil, Culture and Arts Instructor said he believes the screenings provide understanding of the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. to those who attend them.

“It provides an understanding of not just Martin Luther King, but of the Civil Rights Movement and how it affects us today,” Thottiyil said. “Equal access to education and enlightenment, I feel, are a very important aspect of this. People might not be aware of how deep that history is.”

Having previously believed Martin Luther King, Jr. was just a strong person, Mia Boatright said watching “Selma” had changed her perception of the iconic civil rights leader.

“I would have never thought he was going through some of the stuff he was going through,” Boatright said. “When he was breaking down, going across that bridge, he was feeling something. He was like, ‘No, this isn’t safe, we’re not crossing,’ and he turned around because there were too many people dying.”

The film provided a glimpse into the reality of the Civil Rights Movement she feels most are unfamiliar with, Salter said.

“I liked how (“Selma”) showed the actual footage from the march, because it seems like it’s not true, like the history of it all didn’t really happen,” Salter said. “It’s larger than life. But that actually happened, and worse happened.”

The Carver hosts screenings like this one frequently, providing opportunities for visitors to not only be entertained, but also to learn. Weaver said teaching the public about the history of the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work is just one of the many benefits the Carver provides to the East Austin community, such as rentable classrooms and a dance studio.

Thottiyil said King’s legacy lives on in opportunities created by facilities like the Carver — where people of all races can meet and have conversations about black history and culture — which were uncommon prior to King’s work.

“There’s just so many great things about it (the Carver),” Weaver said. “It was the first Black museum that we had. It is a resource to its community.”