Students' civil rights research recognized
Alabama paper features Elon project


Five School of Communications students and staff member Leah Kessler were featured in two stories in the Montgomery Advertiser about their research project on media professionals who covered the civil rights movement.

Anna Brodrecht, Jennifer Sposato, Dan Turk, Scott Myrick and Alex Bauer traveled to Alabama on a five-day swing through Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma, working day and night interviewing civil rights leaders, reporters and photographers. They are producing a video documentary that will be made available to public television stations, colleges and libraries.

There has been little research on the journalists who covered the civil rights stories of the 1950s and 1960s. The six-member team recorded 13 hours of interviews and B-roll on tapes during their journey. They will return to Alabama in March to conduct more interviews. The students, led by Kessler have also been recording interviews at Elon as part of the project since last spring. They plan to tape a session with Walter Cronkite when he visits Elon in the spring.

Following is the text of two articles written by reporter/photographer Alvin Benn for the Dec. 15 and 16 editions of the Montgomery Advertiser. Benn met the Elon students when they interviewed him for the documentary, and decided they were making news. He wrote a story on the students, then wrote a second story about people who were brought together by the students' project. Benn also took the photographs on this page.

(Story I: Photo/story copyright Montgomery Advertiser, Dec. 15, 2002)

Students record civil rights history

A group of college students from North Carolina is spending the weekend examining the civil rights movement and the challenges faced by reporters who covered it.

Five Elon University students and their supervisor learned through a series of interviews that those with pens, notebooks and television cameras were as vulnerable as the demonstrators they followed through the South during the 1960s. They interviewed civil rights leaders, reporters and photographers in Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma during their visit to Alabama.

"The past three days have been the most inspirational and educational that we could ever have spent on this documentary special," said Leah Kessler, who handles special projects for the school, located about 30 miles east of Greensboro. Kessler said it will take about a year to complete the documentary, which will be made available to public television stations, colleges and libraries free of cost.

Reporters in other states also are being interviewed. Among those interviewed Saturday in Alabama were Frank Sikora, who covered civil rights events for The Birmingham News, and Tommy Giles, a photographer with the state Department of Public Safety, who once worked for United Press International in Montgomery.

"The reporters were our friends," the Rev. C.T. Vivian of Atlanta told the students at the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma on Saturday afternoon. "The cameramen and the reporters became targets as they tried to bring the nation the news of what we were doing."

Joining Vivian at the museum was Amelia Boynton Robinson, who was beaten and gassed on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, as Alabama State Troopers beat back 600 voting rights activists who sought to walk to Montgomery. Vivian's nose was broken by Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark during the demonstrations that year, and Robinson, who now lives in Tuskegee, was hospitalized after her beating on the bridge.

The Selma movement occurred a decade before the Elon students were born, and they said their trip to Alabama was an eye-opening experience and a history lesson as well.

"I didn't realize how defensive some people in Alabama still get when they are asked about what happened during the civil rights movement," said Anna Brodrecht, 19, who grew up in Trussville in Jefferson County and is a sophomore majoring in broadcast communications.

Brodrecht said when she called a museum official in Bessemer about her team's project, she was asked, "Why don't you do something positive?"

Many documentaries have been made about the civil rights struggle during the 1950s and 1960s, but few have focused on the reporters and camera crews who also risked life and limb to tell the story of what was happening.

"The reporter, whether he had a pencil or a camera, was tremendously important to the story," said Vivian. "The opposition didn't want the story told because it couldn't help but point up how horrible they were and that they were the problem, not us."

Vivian noted that several reporters were roughed up covering the demonstrations and some were beaten so badly they had to be hospitalized.

"The opponents of what we were doing tried to stop them in every way they could," Vivian said. "People could see when they put their hands on the camera, but what they couldn't see were the people who were sent to the hospital because they were reporting the news."

(Story II: Photo/story copyright Montgomery Advertiser, Dec. 16, 2002)

Congressman Davis meets with civil rights pioneer

SELMA - Central Alabama's newest congressman wasn't born when Bob Mants and hundreds of other civil rights pioneers paved the way for him to go to Washington. Mants met U.S. Rep.-elect Artur Davis on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday morning, and the men talked about past struggles and future challenges for equality in the country.

"There wouldn't have been a Voting Rights Act without you and the others who were involved in the movement," Davis told Mants, 62.

Mants and Davis, who will become the U.S. representative from Alabama's 7th District next month, were in Selma for different reasons Sunday, and their meeting provided a bonus for a group of North Carolina college communications students who are filming a documentary on the civil rights movement.

Davis, 35, spent the weekend meeting with members of his staff and Selma constituents, while Mants drove to Selma from his home in the Lowndes County community of White Hall to be part of the documentary.

On March 7, 1965, Mants was in the second row of protesters crossing the Pettus Bridge when Alabama state troopers and Dallas County Sheriff's deputies dispersed the peaceful crowd of civil rights marchers using tear gas, billy clubs and horses. The event was broadcast across the nation and quickly became known as "Bloody Sunday."

The brutality galvanized the country in support of the Voting Rights Act, which stripped away barriers to voter registration for black Americans across the country.

In the first row of protesters, just ahead of Mants, was John Lewis, who led the march across the bridge and suffered a concussion when the troopers charged the group. Lewis is a Democrat in Congress today, representing the Atlanta area.

"John Lewis' connection to this area is very strong," said Davis, who grew up in Montgomery and graduated from Harvard University. "If there is a living legend who sits in Congress today, it's John Lewis."

As Mants and Davis talked, students from Elon University near Greensboro, N.C., stood nearby recording their conversation as cars and trucks whizzed by on the bridge.

"The civil rights movement still exists," said Davis. "There is a movement today about widening access to health care, affordable housing and equitable education," he said.

Mants agreed with Davis, calling today's issues "a continuing struggle."

"Each generation has its race to run," Mants said. "My parents and grandparents passed the baton on to my generation. I'm very pleased to see that the congressman plans to do something about helping improve the quality of life in the Black Belt."



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Last Modified:  12/18/02
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