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UWF Film Series Highlights Civil Rights Movement

The University of West Florida is highlighting Black History with “The Shifting Ground” Film Series focusing on the Civil Rights Movement. Over the next few weeks, there will two documentary film presentations, as well as a program featuring celebrated civil rights leader Rev. H.K. Matthews.

The events are part of the UWF Inclusion Spotlight Series, and are being presented in partnership UWF Common Ground. Dr. Lusharon Wiley serves as Senior Associate Dean of Students and heads up both programs. They will host the first public event on Tuesday, February 24 in the UWF Conference Center.

“We’re going to be looking at a video that was produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center, so it’s certainly been vetted. And, it’s called “Mighty Times: The Children’s March,” said Wiley.

The documentary focuses on the role of young people in the civil rights movement.

“It’s amazing the power of children and the united force of these young people that actually changed the landscape of America,” Wiley said.

Specifically, the film chronicles the events leading up to the violent May 3, 1963 demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama, when local police and fire departments were directed to use force on the student protesters.

Noting the familiar TV newsreel depicting that black day in the civil rights movement, Wiley said “I think, too often, what we see is that part that shows the hoses and the dogs. What people don’t realize is that thousands, thousands of children were already in jail.”

At the time, leaders of the civil rights movement strategized that the only way to revitalize their stalled efforts in Birmingham was to fill the city’s jail.

The young people stepped up because their parents could not, out of fear they would lose their jobs or have their cars and homes repossessed. They responded to the call from organizers of the civil rights movement

The documentary includes interviews with many of the young people, who recalled the build up to the protest march referred to as “D-Day” and their decision to participate knowing the danger.

Gwen Webb recalled being told by her mother not to go to the march, but to go to school instead. “I told my mother, I said ‘I hear you.’ We were told not to lie, so I didn’t tell her a lie and say I wasn’t going, I said ‘I hear you.”

“She chose freedom. She chose to participate, and her participation, along with others, helped to change the landscape of American society,” said Wiley. “What the children did made an international impact. And, unfortunately what happened is that America was actually shamed into changing the laws and the structure of racial segregation.”

Wiley believes the children made a powerful statement, with their understanding and sacrifices to move America toward what is socially just.

“And, I believe that’s the same kind of vision and fortitude that we have to have today, that together we stand to make a statement on social justice and equality.”

The documentary “Mighty Times: The Children’s March,” which will be shown this Tuesday, February 24, 6 p.m. in the UWF Conference Center. A discussion will follow.

The UWF Inclusion Spotlight and Common Ground have planned two additional events that take a broader look at the Civil Rights Movement.

The next documentary ‘The Shifting Ground’ series is “A Time for Justice: America’s Civil Rights Movement.” It will be shown on March 3 at 6 p.m. in the UWF Conference Center, Ballroom C.

Reverend H.K. Matthews will be featured on Tuesday, Mar. 19 for a program titled “An Evening with a Civil Rights Icon.”  That event will be held at the Commons Auditorium, beginning at 6 p.m. It will include the Common Ground Big Reveal.

For more information about these events, call the Dean of Students Office at 850-474-2384 or email commonground@uwf.edu.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.