The March 25 Thursdays with the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience offers a virtual film screening of “Freedom Riders” by celebrated director Stanley Nelson. A Q and A with Stanley Nelson will follow at 7 pm.
The year was 1961 and the Deep South was steeped in racial inequality when 400 black and white Americans challenged the Jim Crow laws of a segregated interstate travel system traveling by buses together. They risked beatings, imprisonment, and death to bring their message of non-violent protest to the wider world and to test the compliance of two Supreme Court rulings: segregated bathrooms, waiting rooms, and lunch counters were unconstitutional; it was unconstitutional to implement and enforce segregation on interstate buses and trains.
Of the many defining moments in the Freedom Rider’s journey through the South, the bus bombing and beatings in Anniston, Alabama stands at the apex of the brutality they endured. A 21-year-old John Lewis was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders on a second bus in Montgomery, Alabama attacked by the KKK and other white supremacists, a fate he would suffer many times in his life as he emerged as one of the country’s leading civil rights activists.
“Freedom Riders” (2010) is an extraordinary documentary of that year and how the movement forced the realization of racial injustice into the Kennedy White House and into the American living room.
A 2011 New York Times review stated, “It is hard to imagine a feature film conveying the events with a more vivid sense of drama or suspense. The commentators —the riders themselves, historians, politicians, civil rights leaders — have mostly been chosen for an uncanny ability to convey the tension in a present-tense reconstruction. Blowhards and professors of the obvious have been excised, and the archival photographs and news clips have been edited down to those most affecting and lyrical.”
Starr Center’s Digital Historian and Archivist Jasmyn R. Castro was instrumental in arranging the event. “When I attended NYU’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Master’s Program I was part of a student chapter of the Association of Moving Image Archivists that organized a screening and Q and A of “Freedom Summer” and we invited Stanley Nelson to attend.”
Castro thought “Freedom Riders” and its famous director would be an ideal presentation for the Starr Center. He happily accepted the invitation.
“A colleague of mine, Carmel Curtis, from Indiana University will act as moderator during the Q and A and I’m also excited to have found out that former Director of Kent Arts Council Leslie Raimond had archival video of Freedom Riders coming through Chestertown in the 1960s,” she says. The original footage has been cleaned and digitized and will be shown in the background of the question and answer session.
Reverend Brown of Chestertown, whose father welcomed the Freedom Riders to Chestertown will also participate in the discussion.
The Starr Center notes that “Stanley Nelson is today’s leading documentarian of the African American experience. His films combine compelling narratives with rich historical detail to shine new light on the under-explored American past. Awards received over the course of his career include a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, five Primetime Emmy Awards, and lifetime achievement awards from the Emmys and IDA. In 2013, Nelson received the National Medal in the Humanities from President Obama. In 2019 “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool” was nominated by the GRAMMYs for Best Music Film. Nelson’s latest documentary, “Crack: Cocaine, Conspiracy, & Corruption” debuted on Netflix in 2021.”
The evening will begin at 5 p.m. ET with a free, two-hour screening of Nelson’s “Freedom Riders.” After a brief intermission, starting at 7 p.m., Nelson will share with us his professional insights about the film. A moderated Q&A with Nelson with conclude our time together. Join us for the screening at 5 p.m. and the conversation at 7 p.m. or just drop in for the conversation at 7 p.m.