Author/director Matty Rich discusses new book about the Civil Rights Era
When we think of the Civil Rights era or the present-day Black Lives Matter movement, immediately we conjure images of (sometimes angry) black faces in protests. Media and history textbooks in school focus primarily on the black leaders and participants of the movements, instilling in us the idea that civil rights and equality was strictly a black issue fought and won solely by us. While Sen. Bernie Sanders is well known for his involvement in the Civil Rights era and his continued fight for justice for all, he is one of many who understood that these issues affected more than just the African-American community.
Beverly Luther was one such person, a white social worker from New York who moved to the South to participate in the fight against injustice. Author Matty Rich (known for his movie, Straight out of Brooklyn) shares her story in his latest book, Bev, co-written with Andrea Williams. In our interview, Matty talks with YBE about Bev’s involvement in the civil rights era, the need for inclusion and the new movement for justice and equality in present-day America.
YBE: Why did you decide to write a book about Beverly Luther? How did you learn of her?
Matty Rich: I learned about her from a memoir written by her sister, Meredith Kopald. The book details how Bev participated in the Freedom of Summer and left the comfort of her life in New York after a friend was executed. She decided to answer Dr. King’s call because he was looking for clergy and others to help the movement because others were exhausted.
The book details someone looking at the violence and brutality by police against African-Americans and her views as a worker, marching with African-Americans and living with them in the South. You see the movement through the eyes of a Caucasian person who learned what life was like for blacks and how she saw that this fight was a human rights issue, not just an African-American issue.
YBE: Why is it necessary to see how white people and others have contributed to the movements, both in the 60s and currently?
Rich: It’s important to see how white people helped the movement, especially because of how history is repeating itself now. It takes a multi-faceted group of individuals to make sure that civil rights are given to all. It’s a right of being an American – a constitutional right. We’ve all seen the pictures, we’ve seen the videos, but who are these people? They’ve marched against injustice alongside us. They understood what was going on, but truly learned more once they got involved.
I’m all about inclusion and diversity and understanding that when you make it just a black issue, then there are a lot of other people that don’t care. And that’s not fair to all of the people that have fought and died for us to receive the rights that we’ve worked for.
YBE: What are your thoughts about the Black Lives Matter movement?
Rich: Black lives do matter. People are taking the statement out of context. If you are talking about police brutality that consistently happens to African-Americans, then I understand and support that. It is specifically geared towards the issue of police violence against African-Americans that plagues our community. This is the foundation of what they are speaking about, but that doesn’t exclude everyone else. The movement is making a specific statement about that issue. If Bev were alive, she would be involved in Black Lives Matter, because she understood the meaning behind the statement.
History is repeating itself, but I hope we get it right this time. There’s a younger generation right now that doesn’t see black and white like in my mom’s generation. What’s happening now are adults from older generations are fueling the issues. The younger generations are questioning why this is still going on. That’s why it’s timely for this book to come out. People need to read that all white people aren’t bad, all African-Americans aren’t bad.
YBE: Media, especially conservative media, often presents Black Lives Matter as being a movement initiated by, created for and participated exclusively by black people. They portray the activists and often, black people in general, as being violent, anti-police and anti-white thugs. Many of the negative responses in social media about the movement and protesters are often target only black people, despite the ethnic diversity of protesters. How do we deal with that?
Rich: For one, this isn’t a black thing; it’s an American issue. We all pay taxes. I have family members that have fought in wars. I’m a proud African-American, but we shouldn’t label issues that affect our community as “our problem.” Bev didn’t label it as just “their problem”; it’s all our problem. We have to change the way that we’re speaking about these issues, because we’re categorizing them as black and white, when they’re America’s problems that America must fix.
Until more people understand our culture and why we’re frustrated with the injustices and how that makes us feel, then we truly won’t have that Dr. King dream. We have to understand each other’s point of view. How can we pass legislation if both sides don’t understand or won’t listen to each other? They’re constantly talking with more hatred and anger and nothing gets solved.
YBE: I know this might be a touchy subject, but what are your thoughts on the current presidential race, especially as it pertains to the racial issues in this country?
Rich: It doesn’t help when someone is referring to minorities with insulting and degrading names. It doesn’t help when someone is talking division instead of inclusion and diversity. We know that when someone says words, it has a resounding effect. So when you say something that is so divisive about African-Americans or Mexican-Americans just for political gain, it’s very damaging. People who support those views – and I’m not sure why – are very divisive. You don’t have to separate people and cause tension that boils over in our country.
YBE: Getting back to the book, do you envision creating a movie as well?
Rich: I intend to make a movie about it. When I first read her story, I knew I wanted it to be a movie. This point of view needs to be told, especially for the climate we are in right now.
YBE: As a movie, are you concerned that it might be interpreted as being another “great white savior” story?
Rich: We did not want to tell a story about a savior. We wanted to tell the story of a worker who helped the movement. We need to see the worker. And we need to see someone who is initially on the outside, looking at our struggle. There are many other points of view that we have to see.
Other people need to see that our struggle is an American struggle. We need people to see the problems that continue to plague African-Americans and understand that it affects us all.