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Program Series To Examine American Legacy Of Equality

Jan. 16, 2014
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

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In honor of the recent 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Sam Houston State University Newton Gresham Library will ask members of the Bearkat and Huntsville communities to reflect on the Civil Rights Movement and its legacy by presenting a new series of film screenings and discussions.

Created Equal lineupThe “Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle” series will explore the history of civil rights and the changing meanings of freedom and equality in America.

The free, public events, made possible by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, will debut with “Freedom Riders: Would You Get on the Bus?” on Tuesday (Jan. 21), from 5:30-7 p.m. in the Huntsville ISD Administration Building Board Room.

Assistant professor of history Wesley Phelps will introduce the film Freedom Riders and facilitate a discussion among the audience, who will be encouraged to share their reactions to the films and their opinions and experiences related to emerging themes. Freedom Riders is a 2010 PBS-produced documentary chronicling the story behind hundreds of civil rights activists who challenged racial segregation by traveling together in small interracial groups.

“It is such a powerful story and has much to tell us about the role of nonviolent activism in the Civil Rights Movement,” Phelps said. “After the screening, I'd like the audience to consider the fact that this is very recent American history—only 50 years ago!”

Phelps said he would like for community members who remember the 1961 ride to share their personal experiences while these events were occurring and for all audience members to consider the ongoing civil rights struggle and the role of nonviolent direct action within that movement.

“I would like the audience to consider, perhaps more critically than they have before, the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance. In many ways the freedom riders were provoking a crisis—nonviolently, to be sure—but a crisis nonetheless. They knew that if they were met with violence, the federal government would be forced to act to enforce federal law,” Phelps said. “This foreshadowed Martin Luther King's famous ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail,’ written in 1963; the idea that you can bring about meaningful social change by provoking a crisis and coercing the powerful to act to end injustice.”

Future programs include “The Abolitionists: The Life of Frederick Douglass, hosted by Lindsey Swindall on Feb. 6; “The Loving Story: Breaking the Law for Love,” hosted by Jeffrey Littlejohn on Feb. 18; and “Slavery by Another Name: Black Labor Abuse,” hosted by Bernadette Pruitt on Feb. 26. The events will be held around Huntsville.

“The Civil Rights Movement represents a critical piece of American history, and its legacy still shapes our understanding of freedom and equality in America today,” said Erin Cassidy, NGL web services librarian and Created Equal grant coordinator at SHSU.

“The Newton Gresham Library is sponsoring these programs—made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History—in order to educate the community about this part of our shared history and to encourage an engaged public discussion about how the themes of race, equality, freedom, and non-violent resistance relate to our current society.”

For more information, contact Cassidy at 936.294.4567 or visit library.shsu.edu/createdequal/.



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