Fifty Years Ago Today

Fifty years ago today, the 28th of August, 1963 something momentous and historical happened in the United States of America. It was The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the grand march that took place in Washington, D.C. the capital of the United States. The event is synonymous with the very popular, and commonly heard only in sound-bites, speech that Mister Martin Luther King Jr. made on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The speech known as the “I Have a Dream” speech called for racial equality amongst his fellow Americans, especially where it came to education.

On this 50th Anniversary of that day though, I’m struck with the similarities between many aspects of the Civil Rights Movement in the US of the 1960s, and the rebellion depicted in both Catching Fire and Mockingjay. Martin Luther King Jr. was a great speaker, you’d have to be deaf and blind to not know that, he’d studied and honed his craft of speaking in front hgcf002of small and large groups of people for most of his life as a church leader, and by the time he made that speech on those steps, in front of those thousands of people, he was at the top of his game, a master. Katniss Everdeen though unlike King Jr. has no background in speech making, to put it bluntly, she’s a fumbling, bumbling, inattentive, traumatized mess, or she’s just a girl put in impossible circumstances who somehow rises to the occasion, because of sheer will, and the need to save the people she holds most dear.

Are Martin Luther King Jr. and Katniss Everdeen similar though? Well, yes and no? Katniss is a girl from a dystopian future, who lives in a ghetto, has little opportunities, to no opportunities to rise above the socioeconomic station she was born into. Martin Luther King Jr. grew up in urban Atlanta, Georgia a stronghold of the racially segregated southern United States (District 11), to a family heavily involved in the Baptist church, as his father was a reverend. As the son of a leader in his community, King Jr. was probably afforded a bit more respect and upward mobility in his immediate world, unlike Katniss. However, I think that if we get away from childhood comparisons, we’ll start to see more similarities than differences.

Both people, although one is fictional, but we’re going to pretend she’s real for right now, were leaders in highly publicized, fraught, and dangerous movements that were focused on the betterment of their country’s functionality as a civil, equal, and productive societies. Both made great speeches in front mass amounts of people, both came from dissimilar but still humble beginnings, and both were wounded, or in the unfortunate case of Mr. King Jr. assassinated in the process of participating in his cause. The Civil Rights Movement was a

Gloria Richardson should be an inspiration to Katniss Everdeen

Gloria Richardson should be an inspiration to Katniss Everdeen

bloody, violent, and dangerous time in United States’ history, and the violence more often than not was perpetrated by people in authority, the police in many cases, and in other cases, over zealous, bigoted, brainwashed, private citizens who were sometimes, but not always members of the KKK or other organizations. I don’t even have to reach that far with this one, but has anyone ever noticed that members of KKK wear white costumes when they’re doing their dirty work, much like the Peacekeepers of Panem? I doubt that’s an accident, although pointy hoods, and masks are kind of more scary if you’ve never seen full body armor that resembles the exoskeleton of an enormous insect as per Trish Summerville’s has designed for Catching Fire’s film adaptation. 

Scariness comparisons aside, the gung-ho and almost automaton-esque fervor in which white community members of the segregated south, reacted to the frankly innocent confrontation tactics civil rights movement participants took at times (sitting in the white sections of department stores luncheonettes, and asking to be served, that’s innocent by my standards), the citizens of the Capitol were ignorant, dumb struck puppies in their reactions though, or non reactions to the rebellion happening in their country. Thankfully in that sense Katniss never had to contest very hard with the Capitol citizens to get them on her side, frankly they were kept in the dark on most things, and were probably more confused by her costume change than her getting involved in something political. Although once they stopped being able to get soap, they probably blamed Katniss a whole hell of a lot.

Anyway, if you’re at all ignorant on the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in the United States, I suggest you remedy that as soon as possible. Starting with the speech mentioned above.

Katniss would probably even be impressed.

Them There Eyes

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2 comments

  1. I think Katniss as MLK is a stretch. There were indeed parallels between the fate of African Americans in the days of Jim Crow and the plight of people in Panem’s outlying Districts; and Garry Ross and Frances Lawrence have clearly used imagery that evokes the sad story of slavery and racism (the riots after Rue’s death, the still scene’s we’ve glimpsed from CF of black workers harvesting cotton).

    Katniss is a courageous bit player who becomes a symbol, but in truth she was generally a pawn that both sides tried to use. Rosa Parks or Amelia Boynton might provide closer analogies from the civil rights era.

    Martin Luther King was nobody’s pawn. He was far more mature than Katniss, a seasoned leader at the time of the March on Washington. And he was joined by many other strong, mature, thoughtful leaders of different races. Haymitch, Plutarch, Coin, just don’t cut it compared to some of the giants of that era. Even LBJ — a Texan — realized that the time had come for change and two nights after the Bloody Sunday march from Selma to Montgomery presented a bill to Congress that would become the Voting Rights Act of1965. In his stirring speech (also worth reading) he invoked the language of the marchers’ anthem “we shall overcome.”

    But you are so right that it is important to remember those times, and the momentous and courageous struggle that taught our nation a new way of thinking and acting.

    P.S. I actually think the closest place to Panem on earth today is North Korea — the parallels are startling but it would take a whole post to go into all the details.

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