Monday 25 May 2015

The Campaign for Civil Rights during the 1950s and 1960s

"It's a very important thing to learn to talk to people you disagree with."
—Pete Seeger

"As an artist I come to sing, but as a citizen, I will always speak for peace, and no one can silence me in this."
—Paul Robeson

"An unjust law is no law."
—Martin Luther King

For an assessment of Seeger's life and career, you might wish to read Susan Green in Critics at Large

We will be showing clips from the 2007 documentary Peter Seeger: The Power of Song

Roger Ebert says that the film is a tribute to the legendary singer and composer who thought music could be a force for good, and proved it by writing songs that have actually helped shape our times ("If I Had a Hammer" and "Turn, Turn, Turn") and popularizing "We Shall Overcome" and Woody Guthrie's unofficial national anthem, "This Land Is Your Land."

For a review of a one-man play on the life of Paul Robson, you might wish to read my review from Critics at Large

Daniel (1983) "begins with a closeup of Daniel's eyes. He is dispassionately reciting a dictionary entry about electrocution. These stark words summarize what happened to his parents and they are about the only knowable facts about the case. Then we meet other characters -- Daniel's sister, Susan, and the adoptive parents who took in the Isaacson children. Susan seems terribly scarred by her childhood; she is hysterical, angry, suicidal. Daniel is less visibly scarred, but he is brutally cruel to his young wife and we wonder if she represents, for him, the mother who left -- who chose death over her children.
The movie then begins to move back and forth through time. There are warm sepia-toned flashbacks to left-wing days in the 1930s, when the Isaacsons are swept up in the euphoria of the American Communist Party. The present-day scenes, usually shot with lots of blues and greens, follow Daniel's quest for friends of his parents who might share their secrets."

Selection from a review by Roger Ebert

Eyes on the Prize is the most comprehensive, detailed, and informative series of any covering the Civil Rights struggles from the early stages through the 1980's. This is a must see for any person looking to get information and insight on what the struggle for equality was like for black people in America. They compile actual footage from historical events, along with interviews with some of the people who were actually there. This series will make you go through a range of emotions as you actually feel of part of the history that you are viewing. Julian Bond, (who participated in many of these events) does a masterful job a narrating the entire series. This is one series that you must have in your collection.

 As Cecil Gaines serves eight presidents during his tenure as a butler at the White House, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and other major events affect this man's life, family, and American society. This is an excellent film superior to the acclaimed Selma.

For a perceptive review of this film, I would recommend Steve Vineberg's piece in Critics at Large.

In 1965, 21-year-old Torontonian, Paul Saltzman drove to Mississippi, volunteering as a civil rights worker with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. He was arrested, spending 10 days in jail. He smuggled letters out of jail to the Toronto Star. Canadian Foreign Affairs requested his release but Saltzman declined. Posted to one of the toughest segregationist towns, Greenwood, he helped disadvantaged sharecroppers register to vote. He was assaulted by a young Klansman. In 2007, Saltzman returned to find the KKK member who had punched him in the head, to explore if individual reconciliation was possible. He found him and a 5 year dialogue has ensued. His assailant was, Byron de la Beckwith Jr., whose father, Byron de la Beckwith Sr.  likely murdered NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers.

While traveling in the Deep South, Virgil Tibbs, a black Philadelphia homicide detective, becomes unwittingly embroiled in the murder investigation of a prominent businessman when he is first accused of the crime and then asked to solve it. Finding the killer proves to be difficult, however, especially when his efforts are constantly thwarted by the bigoted town sheriff. But neither man can solve this case alone. Putting aside their differences and prejudices, they join forces in a desperate race against time to discover the shocking truth.

It's been called one of the most revolutionary acts committed to film.
Forty-two years after the event it still packs a punch. Note that one of the main characters in this scene is an African-American and the other, an autocratic white plantation owner, looks like Dick Cheney.
In 1965, noted Mark Harris in 'Slate' magazine, in order to get the film made, "producer Walter Mirisch had to run the numbers and show United Artists that a picture in which Sidney Poitier one-upped a town full of white rubes could make money even if it never opened in a single Southern city."
Sidney Poitier plays the Philadelphia detective visiting a relative in the Deep South. He's arrested, vexatiously, by the local police. Beginning an almost routine process of trying to fix him up for a local murder, he reveals his identity. In a performance that won him an Oscar, Rod Steiger plays the role of Police Chief Bill Gilliespie. Initially an oafish redneck, the growing respect between himself and Poitier's Detective Virgil Tibbs is one of the great two-handers of cinema.

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