The history department at Columbus State University is peering back into America’s civil rights struggle and its local ties to Georgia.
The university is currently hosting Freedom Riders, a major exhibition of the 1961 Freedom Rides.
Freedom Riders is a national traveling exhibit. Produced by PBS’ American Experience, the moveable museum uses photos, newspaper clippings, and audio to tell the narrative of six months in 1961 when more than 400 young people rode to different cities in the South to challenge the Jim Crow laws that had dominated since the 1890s.
The exhibit, which is on display in the Simon Schwob Memorial Library until Nov. 7, is the first part of the university’s year-long initiative to examine the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Charles Person, a native of Atlanta and one of the original Freedom Riders, gave the opening lecture at the exhibit on Oct. 17.
“With of the recent anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and the upcoming anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, we thought it was a perfect time to do a year-long commemoration,” says Gary Sprayberry, chair of the university history department.
Starting next spring, the department plans to host a series of film screenings and lectures.
In June, Columbus State University applied for a grant from Creative Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle Initiative. The initiative is part of the National Endowment of Humanities, a program that uses documentary films to encourage discussion of America’s civil rights history. Columbus State is one of 473 institutions across the country that have been awarded a set of four documentary films chronicling the history of the civil rights movement. They are The Abolitionists, Slavery by Another Name, The Loving Story, and Freedom Riders, which is the full-length documentary that inspired the traveling exhibit.
Instead of hosting all of the screenings at the university, Sprayberry hopes to hold the screenings at different venues in Columbus.
“We want to get people in the community to come out. We want to have the screenings at different venues around town because we’ll get different voices from different parts of the city. I think because of that, we’ll have a rich, lively dialogue,” said Sprayberry.
The department is also looking to do a panel with local activists in Georgia. “There were certainly young people here who worked to desegregate the bus routes and public areas such as the park.”
He hopes the panels will attract audience members with local stories about the civil rights movement.
“The civil rights movement swept into every city across the South,” said Sprayberry.
“Once they were successful in Birmingham, it gave others confidence. It gave others hope. If you could melt the ice in Birmingham, it could spread to the rest of the South”.