The film features the stories of those who remember segregation in Alabama—white Birminghamians and members of the African-American community in the city—capturing their first-hand accounts of the culture of segregation in Birmingham in the 1950s and 1960s, their memories of events during the Movement, and their thoughts on the challenges that remain today in the struggle for true racial equality, with a special focus on voting rights. Capturing their stories now is critical due to the advanced ages of the witnesses who are still living.
The film will be a documentary, approximately 60 to 90 minutes in length. We have interviewed 50 people who participated in relevant activities, often planned at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham (UUCB), which was a key gathering place for white liberals during the Movement. Mostly in their 80s now, they recall their own experiences and activism during the 1950s and 1960s, as well as the contributions of others who have passed away.
The film also captures the stories of members of the Carlton Reese Memorial Unity Choir, an African-American choir that was started by Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth in 1959 to serve as the musical voice of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham. We have interviewed almost all of the surviving original members of the choir to capture their memories of life in Birmingham—and the importance of their music—during segregation and during the fight for racial justice in the 1960s; the film also features their stories about struggling to register to vote, participating in protest marches, and, in some cases, going to jail in Birmingham during the 1960s.
Other interviewees whose stories are told in the film include an African-American lawyer, now in his 80s, who talks about his struggle to register to vote in Alabama in the 1960s, as well as current obstacles to voting for some citizens; an African-American radio personality, also now in his 80s, who will talk about the importance of radio and music in getting the word out (in code) to the black community about the marches in Birmingham during the Movement; and a white physician, also now in his 80s, who oversaw the treatment of marchers and others injured during the protest marches and after bombings in Birmingham, including the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church.
In addition to Alabamians, we interviewed two of the children of Viola Liuzzo, the civil rights worker from Detroit who was killed by the Klan in Alabama after the final Selma march in 1965. The stories of Anthony Liuzzo, Jr., and Mary Liuzzo Lilliboe are powerful illustrations of both the horrific consequences of racial hatred and the human capacity for healing and hope.
The stories that are presented illustrate the complexity of the cultural, racial, and religious factors that influenced the civil rights struggle and the ethical values and commitment that empowered those who stood up for justice to work together to create positive change. The film captures the experiences and thoughts of both black and white activists on the complex challenges of racism—both then and now—with a special focus on the extraordinary, heroic individuals who were able to transcend their own “kind” and, at great risk, fight for the rights of all people.