CSU’s Civil Rights History Series Focuses on Freedom Rides

COLUMBUS, Ga. — Columbus State University will host a year-long retrospective of America’s civil rights struggle, starting with a major exhibition on the Freedom Rides, which will be launched by an Oct. 17 lecture from a former participant in the violence-plagued prtests of 1961.

Freedom Riders, a national traveling exhibition, tells the story of civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the South to challenge authorities’ failure to enforce U.S. Supreme Court rulings outlawing segregation on such buses and at retail establishments. CSU’s Simon Schwob Memorial Library will host the exhibition from Oct. 17-Nov. 7.

CSU’s Department of History and Geography was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities/Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History grant to help fund the year-long retrospective, which also includes speakers and films.

“I think it’s important for the next generation to know what their parents and grandparents did to ensure the freedoms they enjoy today,” said Gary Sprayberry, chair of the department. “Programs such as these are necessary and important as they commemorate past deeds and sacrifices, and remind us of all that has been achieved in the last half-century. But they also remind us that the struggle isn’t over.”

All events, including the exhibition, are free and open to the public.

The Oct. 17 lecture by one of the original Freedom Riders, Charles Person of Atlanta, will coincide with the opening of the Freedom Riders exhibition. Organized by the Gilder Lehrman Institute and PBS’s flagship history series, American Experience, the exhibition combines photography and news coverage of the rides, also offering first-hand audio accounts. The exhibition was a companion to the May 2011 PBS broadcast of the American Experience film, Freedom Riders, and has been made possible in part by a major grant from the NEH. CSU will show the American Experience film on Oct. 29.

The Freedom Riders exhibition examines the protests from many perspectives — that of the riders, the Kennedy administration and the international community. Exhibition visitors can use their cell phones to access the first-hand audio accounts. The Oct. 17-Nov. 7 exhibition will be available for viewing during regular library hours.

At age 18, Person was the youngest of 13 original riders. He was initially attacked by Ku Klux Klansmen on his bus after it left Anniston, Ala. In the Mother’s Day riot at the Birmingham Trailways Bus Station, Person was among the most badly beaten riders. Later that year, the gifted math and physics student at Morehouse College enlisted and spent the next 20 years in the Marines.

Major components of the civil rights history series at CSU are:

  • Person’s lecture at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17 at CSU’s University Hall.
  • A 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24 lecture at Schwob library by T.K. Thorne, author of Last Chance for Justice: How Investigators Uncovered New Evidence Convicting the Birmingham Church Bombers. Thorne, a Birmingham police captain-turned-author, offers in her new book an insider’s look at how two of her colleagues reopened one of the most infamous civil rights crimes, the Sept. 15, 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed four young girls. That police work led to convictions of three more Klansmen in 2001-2002.
  • The 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29 screening of Freedom Riders in CSU’s Davidson Student Center auditorium.
  • A 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7 lecture, also at Schwob library, by Thomas Aiello, an assistant professor of history and African-American studies at Valdosta State University, on "Leaving the Promised Land: The Atlanta Hawks, Race, and the NBA's Move to the Deep South." Aiello, who’s also taught at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, has published nonfiction books on the Grambling-Southern football rivalry and Depression-era competition in the Negro Leagues, as well as three novels.

The documentary and three other films CSU will show in the spring are part of a series titled Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle, made possible through a major grant from the NEH as part of its Bridging Cultures initiative, in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute. made possible by the NEH’s separate Created Equal project, also supported by the Gilder Lehrman Institute. As part of the endowment’s Bridging Cultures initiative, Created Equal uses documentaries to start public discussions about freedom and equality in America.

The other Created Equal films that Columbus State will air next spring are The Abolitionists (2013), on the reform movement leading to the Emancipation Proclamation; Slavery by Another Name (2012), on forms of forced labor that kept thousands of African-Americans in bondage until World War II; and The Loving Story (2011), on the struggle of a couple, arrested in 1958 for violating Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage, that led to a landmark Supreme Court decision allowing such unions.

CSU’s Department of History and Geography will also make these films available for screenings elsewhere in the community. For more information, contact Ilaria Scaglia at scaglia_ilaria@ColumbusState.edu. This year’s programs are offered in support of a Master of Arts in history with a race, ethnicity and society concentration, which CSU began offering in 2012.

Accommodations for people with disabilities will be provided at all events, including large print materials, audio guides and exhibition tours led by a sign-language interpreter; sign language interpreters at all lectures; and access for persons using wheelchairs.

Space at the lectures is limited, and early arrival is recommended. Groups of 25 or more are asked to preregister by contacting chappel_patty@ColumbusState.edu or calling 706-507-8350. For more on parking, directions and other details, visit the website of CSU’s Department of History and Geography at http://ColumbusState.edu/history.

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