March 7, 1965, Alabama State Troopers clashed with hundreds of civil
rights activists during a march from Selma to Montgomery. The violence
that erupted that day on the Edmund Pettus Bridge became known as
"Bloody Sunday" and helped garner support for the Voting
Rights Act, which eliminated barriers to voter registration for
four decades later, a group of Elon School of Communications students
stood on that same bridge in Selma. They interviewed civil rights
leaders who recounted being beaten by authorities who used tear
gas, billy clubs and horses to break up the march. Those interviews
and others with reporters are part of a video documentary the students
are producing that examines the challenges journalists faced covering
the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s.
school we learned the history of the movement from a white perspective,
and here we're getting a whole different perspective," says
senior Anna Brodrecht, who grew up in Alabama. "Just talking
to the people has made a big difference to me."
Justen Baskerville learned firsthand about the sacrifices and struggles
of the marchers, many of whom toiled in anonymity. "People
put their lives on the line to change something that seemed impossible
to change," he says. "You have to have a lot of respect
for people who did that."
documentary was the brainchild of Brad Hamm, associate dean of the
School of Communications, who secured an anonymous grant to fund
the project. "This project is valuable for the tapes themselves.
Journalism at its core is oral history," he said.
documentary includes interviews with locally and nationally known
media professionals and civil rights activists. On campus, students
interviewed Lee Kinard, former news anchor at WFMY-TV in Greensboro,
N.C., and Horace Carter, former editor and publisher of the Tabor
City Tribune, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for coverage of
the Ku Klux Klan in southeast North Carolina. Students also interviewed
former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite during his visit to campus
traveled to Alabama in December and March and shot more than a dozen
hours of videotape. They stopped in Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma,
where they learned that often journalists were victims of violence
along with the marchers.
all said, 'I did the best I could,' and, 'I was in the right place
at the right time.' It was almost like civil service for them,"
says Leah Kessler, director of internships and special projects
in the School of Communications. "We didn't know how important
the press was to the civil rights movement. It's an angle you haven't
Scott Myrick says the impact of the demonstrations was not lost
on the reporters and photographers they interviewed. "Everyone
who reported this story knew the stories they were writing were
going to cause a fundamental change in America," he says.
junior Dan Turk, who is also from Alabama, hearing from the activists
themselves made a big difference. "It was interesting to hear
another side of the story and probably the truth," he says.
In addition to the Selma-to-Montgomery march, the students have
focused on the Woolworth's sit-in in 1960 and the bombing of the
Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, which killed four
girls in 1963. They also visited the Rosa Parks Library and Museum
in Montgomery and the Voting Rights Museum in Selma, where they
interviewed C.T. Vivian, a top aide to King. One of the most moving
experiences for the students was standing on the bridge in Selma
talking to civil rights activists who marched on that fateful day
and continue to dedicate their lives to the cause.
we talked to said that when they topped the bridge, all they saw
was a sea of blue," Brodrecht says, referring to the lines
of state troopers who awaited the marchers. "The ghosts are
people are the living leaders of the civil rights movement, and
that is what's so amazing about this project," adds Myrick.
March, students returned to Selma for a reenactment of Bloody Sunday.
During the event, Baskerville got separated from his classmates
on the bridge and stopped with the crowd to pray. "I was thinking
people fought for my rights here where I'm standing," he says.
"That's when it hit me. It was definitely very powerful."
their interviews the students learned that civil rights leaders
were adept at courting the media. "They knew what was news
and what would get on the news," says junior Jennifer Sposato.
"Without the media, change wouldn't have happened so fast and
the way it did."
of the students' research involved comparing the way Northern and
Southern newspapers and television stations covered the movement.
They found that the more aggressive coverage by reporters in the
North forced many Southern editors to move protest stories onto
the front page.
documentary is expected to be released next spring and will be available
to civil rights museums and colleges and universities nationwide.
was a good experience taking what you learn in the classroom and
using it in the field," says Baskerville. "In the crunch,
we came together as a team."
calls it "learning as you go." "Every hour we were
learning something about our technical craft or our interviewing
techniques," he says. "We were getting experience that
not a lot of people will have."
Says Brodrecht, "Through this project, we've gotten in touch