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
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
(Story I: Photo/story copyright Montgomery Advertiser, Dec. 15,
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
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.
Davis meets with civil rights pioneer
- 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,
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
"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."