Film series looks at little-known, significant events from civil rights era

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PORTLAND — Tthe Portland Public Library is hosting an unusual film series to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., the revered civil rights leader whose birthday is commemorated with a national holiday each January,

Every Thursday evening this month the library will showcase a documentary film that tells the story of little-known people or events that nevertheless played a crucial role during the civil rights movement, which ran from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s.

Each movie is free and open to the public and will be shown at 6:30 p.m. Time will also be allowed for discussion after each screening. Emily Bray Levine, the development and external relations director at the library, said the four films being shown were chosen because of their importance to the overall civil rights era.

“The civil rights movement has been one of the most powerful forces to shape our nation’s history,” she said, “(and) as the work for equality continues, we hope every citizen will seek to discover how we got where we are today because we will all decide where to go from here.”

The films to be shown are “Hoxie: The First Stand,” on Jan. 5; “The Road to Brown,” on Jan. 12; “Negroes with Guns,” on Jan. 19; and “Freedom on My Mind,” on Jan. 26. Call the library at 871-1700 for more information.

Levine said the library has presented a film series on civil rights for the past few years, and the goal is to “provide an opportunity for the public to come together to view” and discuss people and events that had a profound impact on the country’s history and its views of race and equal rights.

All four films have been purchased from California Newsreel, a nonprofit based in San Francisco that has worked to produce and distribute “cutting-edge social issue films for activists and educators since 1968,” according to the organization’s website. This means that each film, once it’s shown, will be available for borrowing.

In addition to the civil rights films, the library is also planning a book discussion series called, “Race and Justice in America,” which is sponsored by the Maine Humanities Council. It runs from Jan. 27-April 10 and will look at a variety of topics from the lens of race and justice.

“Hoxie: The First Stand,” is a film about the battle to implement the desegregation of schools in the small rural town of Hoxie, Arkansas, following the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which was decided in May of 1954 and said that segregated public education was unconstitutional.

“The Road to Brown,” not only follows the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, but it’s also “a moving and long overdue tribute to a visionary but little known black lawyer, Charles Hamilton Houston,” the California Newsreel website says.

Houston was the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review, dean of Howard University Law School and chief counsel to the NAACP, which launched a number of precedent-setting cases that ultimately led to the overturning of the long-held idea of “separate but equal,” which was the lynch pin for laws enforcing segregation.

In “Negroes with Guns” viewers have the chance to learn the story of Robert F. Williams, a forgotten civil rights leader “who dared to advocate for armed self-defense in the face of racist terrorism,” the newsreel website states. Williams was the founder of the Black Power movement who “broke dramatic new ground by internationalizing the African American struggle.”

“Freedom on My Mind,” which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1994, is a landmark film that tells the story of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee’s voter registration drive in Mississippi in 1961.

The film focuses on Bob Moses, a Harvard student who was determined to give blacks the right to vote. In the movie, viewers “witness the growing confidence and courage of poverty-stricken sharecroppers, maids and day laborers as they confront jail, beatings and even murder for the simple right to vote.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Bob Moses was a student at Harvard University in 1961 when he went south to encourage blacks to register for the vote.

Robert F. Williams is a little-remembered civil rights leader who advocated for armed self-defense against racially motivated acts of violence.

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