With the help of a Southern Poverty Law Center grant, Montgomery youth had the opportunity to create a lasting tribute to the Civil Rights Movement while learning the history of their city.
The $10,000 grant, awarded nearly a year ago, culminated in December with the premier of a 20-minute documentary honoring the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Produced by the Youth One group at the Cleveland Avenue YMCA Cultural Arts and Education Center here, the video was shot, directed, edited and narrated by 75 students, ranging in age from 9 to 18.
Tammy Fleming is the director of Youth One. She said the film was developed to help students who are being raised in an integrated society and who have trouble comprehending what segregated life was like during the bus boycott era.
"The film was an opportunity for the students to learn their own history," said Fleming. "The students want to clearly understand why there was segregation."
The eight-month long project included interviews with Center founder Morris Dees, Montgomery mayor Bobby Bright, and Nick LaTour, son of legendary civil rights leader E.D. Nixon. All spoke of the city's unique civil rights history and the legacy of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
"Without the leadership of Dr. King and Rosa Parks, I probably wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now," Dees told the students. He said the Center tries to continue the work begun by King and Parks "to accept one another and get along with each other."
Fleming said the unique project allowed the students to get beyond just the simple retelling of the Rosa Parks story and dig deep into their city's history.
"The students were able to talk to Morris Dees and listen to Nick LaTour talk about his father," said Fleming. "These are real people who had real experiences, and a lot of times their stories are overwhelming."
In addition to interviewing local civil rights icons, the students also toured Montgomery civil rights landmarks, including Holt Street Baptist Church, site of the boycott's first mass meeting; Rosa Parks' home in a Cleveland Avenue apartment complex, and the Civil Rights Memorial Center.
"It was very rewarding to the students to put their names on the Wall of Tolerance and watch Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks," said Fleming, referring to the Memorial Center and one of the Center's teaching kits.
In addition to funding the production of a documentary film, Fleming said the grant allowed the project to accomplish other personal goals.
"The students learned how to cross racial barriers and become participants in their community," said Fleming. "It was an incredible experience that would not have happened without the grant from the Center."
The documentary premiered December 3 at the Capri Theatre, where Center president Richard Cohen introduced the film. Fleming visited the Center yesterday and screened it for Center staff.