By Dan Linke and Brenda Tindal
Martin Luther King riding a Montgomery bus after the boycott.
A recently donated film long thought lost has been digitized and is now viewable online. “Segregation and the South,” a film produced in 1957 by the Fund for the Republic, reported on race issues in the South since the 1954 Supreme Court decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case. It examined the slow progress of integration at elementary and secondary schools and colleges, as well as the white backlash to the decision. It also documented the Montgomery bus boycott. Much of the footage came from news organizations like CBS and NBC that was re-packaged, but some original material was filmed in Clarksdale, Mississippi, by writer and director James Peck. Broadcast on June 16, 1957, a Sunday, from 5-6 p.m., it aired on over 30 ABC affiliates, 12 in the South, but none in the Deep South.
Narrated by prominent voice actor Paul Frees, pioneer television journalist George Martin Jr. served as executive producer, and it was Martin’s son who donated his father’s copy of the 16mm film to the Mudd Manuscript Library.
Many notable civil rights figures of the time are featured (though some are not identified) including Ralph Abernathy (31:56: “No we’re not tired”), UN diplomat Ralph Bunche (16:35: “No one has ever been known to enjoy rights posthumously”), NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall (7:10 and 16:56), Rosa Parks (31:17 where she tells of her refusal to give up her seat on a bus that sparked the boycott), and NAACP executive secretary Roy Wilkins (7:51 and 10:03). In addition, the prominent union leader within the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, A. Phillip Randolph, is featured (10:07).
Martin Luther King is featured prominently several times (7:42: “There is a brand new Negro in the South, with a new sense of dignity and destiny;” 34:02; 36:56; 38:30; 38:46; and at 39:07 responding to the violent backlash that followed the end of segregated buses in Montgomery: “Yes, it might even mean physical death , but if physical death is the price that some must pay to free our children from a permanent life of psychological death, then nothing could be more honorable.”)