Cultural center to screen film on Freedom Riders

Movie offers chance for reflection, understanding

By Joy Priest

Citizen protest has been  prevalent lately with revolutions in the Middle East, and more recently with the nonviolent Occupy Wall Street protests that have taken over the metropolitan areas of many major cities across America since August.

The Martin Luther King Cultural Center will present a one-time screening, on Wednesday, of one of the most important nonviolent protests in world history —

“Freedom Riders” — as a part of the center’s 2011 Worldview series, said Chester Grundy, director of the center.

Grundy said the purpose of the Worldview series is to present “thoughtful, high-quality films, which provide critical thought and dialogue,” and that this documentary perfectly captures that.

“It is a powerful, inspirational story of a group of young people — black and white — who came together at the risk of their lives — many enduring savage beatings and imprisonment — to challenge the Jim Crow laws which governed the South in the 1960s,” Grundy said.

Jakobi Williams, facilitator of the screening and an associate professor in history department at UK, called the documentary “very well done,” and said it presented a balanced objective and view of what took place.

“The Freedom Riders really forced the administration to get into the Civil Rights movement and make it a legitimate issue … because there was international pressure,” Williams said. “If it wasn’t for this event there wouldn’t have been a civil rights movement. These folks are heroes.”

Williams said the violence and beatings endured by the nonviolent Freedom Riders — who were also students — created a large international response. Everyone looked at America as the leader of the free world, and people were almost getting killed for trying to ride a bus, he said.

Williams said the protests depicted in the documentary weren’t the first time “Freedom Rides” had been attempted. A woman had attempted a similar protest in the 1940s, which resulted in her winning a lawsuit, and “the laws were already on the books.”

“Much of the Civil Rights Movement is about enforcing the laws, because all of these laws have already been passed,” Williams said.

Grundy said reflecting on this film, these events and this period is important whenever there is an opportunity.

“The quest for knowledge and understanding of the real American story takes a 24/7 effort and simply cannot be neatly pigeon-holed into the month of February,” Grundy said.

Williams said students should come to the screening to appreciate the heroism and sacrifice of those who came before them and to better appreciate the privileges they take for granted today.

“Students should come out because it’s an opportunity to learn about a period of our history that seems distant in time, but some of these issues are still pertinent today,” Williams said.

Grundy quoted “Freedom Riders” filmmaker Stanley Nelson: “The lesson of the Freedom Riders is that great change can come from a few small steps taken by courageous people. And that sometimes to do any great thing, it’s important that we step out alone.”

If You Go

What: “Freedom Riders”

When: Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Where: Worsham Theater

Admission: Free