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Historians challenge depiction of LBJ in 'Selma'

Screenshot 2015-01-05 13.43.02
(Photo Credit:  Atsushi Nishijima – © 2014 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.)

As the accolades continue to roll in for Ava DuVernay’s Selma, some historians are taking exception to the buzzworthy film’s depiction of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

In a recent New York Times article, author Diane McWhorter (Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution) says DuVernay got Johnson’s stance on the Selma protests wrong.

“Everybody has to take license in movies like this, and it can be hard for nitpickers like me to suspend nitpicking,” McWhorter wrote in the article. “But with the portrayal of L.B.J., I kept thinking, ‘Not only is this not true, it’s the opposite of the truth.’ ”

A former aide to President Johnson told The Washington Post that unlike what was presented in the film, Johnson considered Dr. King an ally, and it was Johnson who conceived the idea of marching in Selma.

“Selma was LBJ’s idea,” said Joseph Califano, former Johnson domestic policy aide. “He considered the Voting Rights Act his greatest legislative achievement, he viewed King as an essential partner in getting it enacted — and he didn’t use the FBI to disparage him.”

Califano says there’s a transcript of a phone call between King and Johnson in which the president suggests strategies to be used to drum up support among whites for the voting rights bill by looking for “the worst condition that you run into” in the South. Johnson is said to have wanted images of “racial brutality” to send to media outlets, but the film credits the idea to Dr. King. Califano also asserts that Johnson had nothing to do with J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI witchhunt of King.

Civil rights leader and former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, who has given overall praise for the movie, also noted some inaccuracies in President Johnson’s portrayal.

“He did support King’s fight for voting rights. He probably is the best civil rights president America has ever had. The best. Absolute best,” Bond told CBS news. “I think the movie people wanted Dr. King to have an antagonist. Why not have it be LBJ?”

DuVernay discussed the controversy on Twitter, writing in part that the “notion that Selma was LBJ’s idea is jaw dropping and offensive” to Blacks and all involved with the Civil Rights Movement.

Selma opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, Jan. 9.


  1. britishrose on January 5, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    why do every one have to thing dr king did every thing alone he needed the help of the president to get orders moved on , he couldnt just go down there with no national guards or no nothing ., he need the president word that he would be protected . julian bond ought to know .. i love dr m luther king but , a lot about him been misconscrewed for years , he was a womanizer and he cheated on his wife while on that road , no man is an island . , so people need to stop glorifying his legacy ., i do believe some higher ups in the white house contributed to his death though ., and someone alive today know who it was … james earl jones may have been a patsey but he did shot king .. so that chapeter is true . i wish black folks will stop sugar coating dr king legacy he wasnt jesus he was a man who made many mistakes he had many faults ,but his legacy is all that matters now . he saved many blacks from what the kkk was about to do ., if he and johnson didnt have that power meeting.., to decide on a strategy .. and it worked lets give them both credit kennedy would have wanted this

    • Ann on January 11, 2015 at 9:51 pm

      What on earth are you talking about? Are you even from America?! What does Dr. King’s personal life have to do with his role in the civil rights movement. NOTHING AT ALL. You said a lot of irrelevant crap. & Black people do not think this man was Jesus. So you need to go sit down somewhere and learn something.

      • sugarbutterbean on January 12, 2015 at 4:10 pm

        I REPEAT HE IS NOT JESUS … DID I MAKE A ERROR? DO I NOT AS AN AMERICAN .have my own dam opinion ,i read history books all the time i know all about his efforts but i also read on his failures, thats history too why not tell the story as it really is ., sure its not what you want to hear so go read a book

  2. vashni thompson on February 8, 2015 at 12:15 am

    thank you

  3. vashni thompson on February 8, 2015 at 12:33 am


  4. vashni thompson on February 8, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    thamk you