Passing of John Lewis, C.T. Vivian Reminds Me It’s Time To Step Up

While it might not be perceived to be as big a story as the COVID-19 Coronavirus, the passing of multiple civil rights legends in 2020 is, in fact, a clarion call to action.

Just as I was getting ready to retire for the evening, I learned of the passing of Georgia Congressman John Lewis, only hours after C.T. Vivian breathed his last breath.   Both men worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights movement.

I knew little about Vivian until I got here to Alabama and visited Selma and learned the details of Bloody Sunday and all that he did to ensure that I had the right to vote.   I knew about John Lewis having covered many, many stories involving Georgia congressman during my days as a television news producer in Atlanta.

Sitting right here next to my desk is Walking with the Wind, Lewis’ memoir. I referenced it in my a recent research project.

But it’s not just Lewis and Vivian passed away.  Within the last six months, we’ve lost Dr. Joseph Lowery from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Black Enterprise Founder and Publisher Earl Graves.  Both played crucial roles in the fight for civil rights.

Then in the Washington, DC area, longtime radio host Patrick Ellis also passed away.   While he’s not associated with civil rights leadership,  there are few who have hosted Sunday morning Gospel programs as long as he has.


These men of God — used by the Almighty to create change in our world have now passed  into eternity.  But, what have they left for us to do?

I believe there is a call to action for those of us who believe strongly in the work to which they each dedicated themselves.

John Lewis spoke out about injustice, laid his life on the line and lived for decades after taken some physical blows in Selma, Ala. in 1965 that might have taken the average person out.  He survived, thrived and kept on fighting for 60 more years until tonight.   He lost his battle with cancer.  But,  he won so much more for the rest of us.

Likewise C.T. Vivian spoke up and challenged a Dallas County Sheriff in that same Alabama town.  We owe to him to ensure that the right to vote is protected no matter what it takes.   There are others now who are leading the 2020 fight to ensure all persons can exercise their right to vote.

And, Patrick Ellis left us a legacy of inspiring others with thoughtful words and sounds that reflect our Christian faith and the walk we take as a nation.   Even if you were not in Washington, DC listening to Howard University radio on Sunday mornings, you would be inspired by reading Ellis’  story.


Tonight after about five years, I return to writing on this blog,  called to action to do what I do– WRITE, RESEARCH, and ACT.      Tonight I’m writing.   But, the other things that I do in the researching and in my own actions as a black journalist and a Christian writer are the best way I can answer the call to take up the fight of John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, Patrick Ellis, Earl Graves and Joseph Lowery.

It’s time for me and you to do our part.   If you’re already working, work more.  If you’re not doing anything,  it’s time to spring into action.

The Struggle Continues!


Stillman College Inaugural Festivities Spotlight Service, Path to Eminence

While things were winding down elsewhere in Tuscaloosa with Spring Break beginning at the University of Alabama, Shelton State Community College and the local school systems, it’s been just the opposite at Stillman College as the school’s sixth president Dr. Peter Millet was inaugurated Friday.

The weekend of inaugural festivities that included a Gospel concert on Thursday evening, a prayer breakfast on Friday morning and a sold-out masked scholarship ball on Friday evening, gave the historically black institution that serves more than 800 students a chance to be in the spotlight.

Stillman’s Service Imperative

Saturday’s Burrell Odom Day of Service put the Stillman students in the community  in a way that President Millet told The Tuscaloosa News would be at least a once-a-semester event.

As a service learning instructor and community engaged scholar, I was pleased to hear that President Millet wants to make community service an official part of every Stillman student’s experience.

As an undergraduate student at Howard University 25 years ago,  I vividly remember my days of service in Northwest Washington, DC as a member of the Community Action Network.   I also did street ministry through my church, Metropolitan Baptist.  But,   my connection to the larger DC community was an important part of my development.  It also helped me be a better journalist.

Stillman President Peter Millet
Stillman President Peter Millet

Path to Eminence

Often those of us at the University of Alabama or elsewhere in Tuscaloosa hear secondhand what’s going on across town at Stillman College.  Fortunately, Friday, I got a chance to see firsthand some of the festivities formally marking the beginning of The Peter Millet era.

Even though he’s been on campus for more than a year, formally as provost and then as an interim President, this weekend was Dr. Millet’s chance to call the nation’s attention to what he is doing to take this institution established in 1876 to a new dimension in 2015.

He wants Stillman College to “Expeditiously Move from Excellence to Eminence.”

In his inaugural address Friday, Dr. Millet detailed how he would do that with academic excellence, community engagement, health and wellness and simply by “loving one another.”

Indeed, it’s a great day to be a Stillman College student and an occasion for pride if you are one of the thousands of Stillman College alumni.   Those of us in the Tuscaloosa community celebrate with the Tigers on the West side of Tuscaloosa.

Those of us at the University of Alabama stand with you in our common goal of helping our students be successful

Thoughts On Selma From A NAACP Freedom Fighter Re-Educated On the Movement

Time to say what I learned today about civil rights as I traveled to Dallas County, Ala where the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march began in 1965.

Today's experience in Selma, Ala. will be remembered most because of the tens of thousands who came here to mark the 50th "Bloody Sunday" anniversary
Today’s experience in Selma, Ala. will be remembered most because of the tens of thousands who came here to mark the 50th “Bloody Sunday” anniversary

SELMA, Ala.–  I don’t believe it was a mere coincidence that my NAACP Youth Council Adviser called me on my mobile phone at the moment I was approaching the Edmund Pettus Bridge today.

Mrs. Ora Lomax is still the youth adviser for the NAACP Youth Council in Richmond, Va.  But, she didn’t know I was here in Selma.

My mother didn’t know I was in Selma as a faculty facilitator for more than 200 University of Alabama students traveling to the 50th Bridge Crossing Jubilee.

But, when I called her this evening, she said she saw the live coverage on the national news and asked my father “Where is George?”

Something told her that I probably was somewhere in the vicinity.

Only the good Lord could have orchestrated the chain of events that remind me of my upbringing as a NAACP freedom fighter, who learned about the hows and whys of civil rights marches and direct action as a high school student back in Richmond, Virginia 30 years ago.

The man who was once president of the Richmond NAACP Youth Council today is a life member of the NAACP and still actively seeking to change to world around me wherever it needs to be changed.

New Found Understanding and Context

As I approach my 45th birthday next week,  I am reflective on traveling here to the city that was both a flash point and turning point in Civil Rights Movement.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.36.18 AM Why me, why now? What does it all mean?

Last week, I tweeted that my voting in a Tuscaloosa, Ala.  tax referendum was one of the best ways to honor those who were hurt on “Bloody Sunday.”

Now that I know who Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young black man murdered not far from Selma in Marion, Ala. just before “Bloody Sunday,”  I can say my vote was for him.

If ONLY I had Known Then What I Know Now

Amelia Boynton Robinson in 1965 and recently on her 103rd birthday.  Photo Illustration Courtesy
Amelia Boynton Robinson in 1965 and recently on her 103rd birthday. Photo Illustration Courtesy

In my years as a working broadcast journalist,  I associated Amelia Boynton Robinson with Lyndon LaRouche and not with what happened here in Dallas County, Ala.

Seeing photos of Ms. Robinson this weekend at 103 as she was wheeled across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Saturday  gave me a whole new view of this significant freedom fighter.  I read recently about her experience and saw her depicted in the Eyes on the Prize “Bridge to Freedom” documentary.

I knew about Alabama State University because it was an historically black college in Montgomery.    Until today, I didn’t know that it was the place that birthed so many civil rights leaders and where Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King stayed after their Montgomery home was bombed.

Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd, President of Alabama State University
Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd, President of Alabama State University

Alabama State President Gwendolyn Boyd told the “ASU Story” in her remarks at Brown Chapel AME this morning.

Her speech set the tone for others who followed in a 3-hour service that was played on a jumbotron on Dallas Avenue as thousands gathered for the Bridge Crossing Jubilee.

I knew the Rev. Jesse Jackson as the 1984 Presidential Candidate/Operation PUSH Leader who’s often over-covered in the media.  Today I saw him lift an offering and quipped about his own fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, Inc.

I knew the Rev. Al Sharpton as the very outspoken African American leader who has his own show, PoliticsNation, on MSNBC.    Today I saw him “preach” for the first time at the Brown Chapel AME Church.    He took a Biblical text and developed it well even as he made some strong points about the current state of voting rights in America.

Crowds gathered on Dallas Avenue and watched the Sunday service from Brown Chapel AME as it was shown on closed-circuit television.
Crowds gathered on Dallas Avenue and watched the Sunday service from Brown Chapel AME as it was shown on closed-circuit television.

My journey to learn more civil rights history isn’t over yet.    But, I promise you it will definitely inform my civil rights present.

As a diversity instructor, who also teaches media literacy, there is an inherent social justice component to what we do.  It’s not enough to sensitize students to poverty or injustice if you don’t advocate for them to use whatever tools they have to do something about it.

I believe that comes through in my work as a faculty member at the University of Alabama working to inspire students of from all racial backgrounds, regions of the country and world.    It’s one of the GREATEST privileges I have.

Journalist and Freedom Fighter

You can be a freedom fighter and be a journalist.    You can use the power of the pen to tell important stories.

You can use your skills as a scholar to create knowledge and provide context, sometimes context to spur a reader to take action.

That’s my story.

At 44 years, 11 months and 20+ days,  I have learned at least that much.

Reporting on Weekend of Crossing Bridges With Students in Tuscaloosa, Selma

Between The Sustained Dialogue Campus Network Annual Summit in Tuscaloosa and The Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma, I worked with college students in crossing bridges this weekend.

Thanks to a carefully-timed national summit for the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network and a University of Alabama field trip, I have spent the last 48 hours figuratively and literally crossing bridges with students from near and far.

As a campus partner for Sustained Dialogue, I was pleased to tell how we utilized Sustained Dialogue techniques in our classes and programs around campus.
As a campus partner for Sustained Dialogue, I was pleased to tell how we utilized Sustained Dialogue techniques in our classes and programs around campus.

It all started Friday afternoon as I addressed the more than 100 students from around the country attending the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network Annual Conference, which was hosted at the University of Alabama.

Dialogue on Bridges

What a great way to engage college students who are learning how to foster conversations that lead to inclusive environments on college campuses all around the country.

Summit attendees received these T-Shirts with a very important question.
Summit attendees received these T-Shirts with a very important question.

On Saturday, we wore t-shirts asking  “Are You Crossing Bridges”  as we participated in intensive planning and strategy sessions for introducing issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, and ability to students in various models with the goal of enacting change.

The students attending the conference had a chance to screen the 1980s PBS documentary “Bridge to Freedom,” which was part of the Eyes on the Prize series.

Traveling to The Bridge

Then, this morning, we showed the film again, but to more than 200 University of Alabama students who were part of a caravan of buses traveling from Tuscaloosa to Selma for the 50th Annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee.

We heard speeches from those challenging us to “go beyond the bridge” and to “not stop on the bridge” before literally walking over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the same place where voting rights demonstrators were beaten 50 years ago this weekend.

The Staff at University Programs did a fantastic job coordinating a field trip with so many students. Everyone arrived safely and made it back to our buses and home safely. Amazing feat. Way to go UP!

To see my multicultural crowd of University of Alabama students listening to the rally speeches, which were given at historic Brown Chapel AME Church and beamed via closed-circuit television out to the tens of thousands who gathered at the Bridge was something I will never forget.

Nervous as we were about taking 200 students on a field trip to a small town not used to 80,000 visitors, we were relieved that it all worked out.  Thanks be to God, we had perfect weather and wonderful interactions on the bus, during the rally and even on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

This weekend will truly be one of the highlights of my 12 years as a resident in the state of Alabama.

My Reunion With Fox News Channel’s Juan Williams As MLK Weekend Kicks Off At U. of Alabama

Juan Williams

It’s hard to believe it’s been 23 years since I first met Juan Williams, the legendary author of Eyes on the Prize, the book that accompanied the 14-hour award-winning television series with the same name a quarter century ago.

Tonight I had the opportunity to be his chaffeur as he visited the University of Alabama to give the keynote address at our Realizing the Dream Legacy Awards Banquet.

Williams, formerly of National Public Radio and The Washington Post, now co-host of Fox News Channel’s “The Five, and fill-in host “The O’Reilly Factor,” spoke to a soldout crowd at the Hotel Capstone .

He used the occasion to share some of the comments from generations of readers of Eyes on the Prize who often are in disbelief about much of what Williams shares in recounting the Civil Rights Movement.

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 10.56.41 PMA year after the 25th anniversary of the publication of Eyes on the Prize, Williams says people still ask “is that really true?” what he reported happened in the period between 1954 and 1965 “was it really that bad?”

Even as he shared stories from his Eyes on the Prize readers, who he says get “younger and younger” he lamented how many want to analyze what he calls the “complicated story of race in America today” by drawing comparisons to the Civil Rights Movement.


Months after the death of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and the unrest following a grand jury’s decision not to the indict the police officer responsible,  Williams says with an African American in The White House, an African American United States Attorney General and an African American executive editor of The New York TImes, there is no comparison.

“People want this period now to be just like the Civil Rights Movement,” Williams said.   ” We have a different of problems.”

The 60-year-old Panamanian born political analyst says, instead of drawing those comparisons,  we should take inspiration from those who accomplished much a half-century ago.

“It’s not necessary to say we were back where we were 50 years ago,” he said.


This afternoon, neither of us could recall The Washington Post story on Former Howard University President Franklyn Jenifer published in September 1992 for which he interviewed me as the editor-in-chief of THE HILLTOP, Howard’s student newspaper.

Williams visited The Malone Hood Plaza, located at Foster Auditorium where the late Alabama Governor George Wallace stood in The Schoolhouse Door.

The subject of that news story wasn’t important today.

What is significant is that 23 years after he sat in my office at THE HILLTOP in Washington, DC talking to me as I was weeks away from finishing my undergraduate degree in journalism,   I’d be an assistant dean at the University of Alabama and Williams would be giving the keynote address here, the same place that he wrote about as being one of the last institutions to integrate.

It was neat showing him Foster Auditorium where George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door and today where the University has recognized the accomplishments of the late Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood, the first blacks admitted to the University in 1963.

What a great start to our Martin Luther King weekend!

Stanley Nelson Rocks with “Freedom Summer” Documentary That Premieres Tuesday Night on PBS’ American Experience

Stanley Nelson, an award-winning documentary producer and leader of Firelight Media has a new documentary on Freedom Summer that premieres Tuesday night. Nelson taught me media production in the early 1990s at Howard University.

It’s Great When Your College Professor Can Still Teach You Something 22 Years After You’ve Graduated.

50LogoSquare_new_450On the edge of my seat tonight learning about what was known as “Freedom Summer,” an effort to secure voter registration for residents in the state of Mississippi.

Honestly, before watching two interviews about a new documentary on Freedom Summer that premieres tomorrow night, I knew little about this milestone in American history.

And, I’m especially proud that my Media Production Professor from Howard University, Stanley Nelson directed the project.

Stanley Nelson

It’s been nearly a quarter century since I sat in Professor Nelson’s class learning the right way to tell a story with moving images.

Now Professor Nelson’s at it again–teaching– this time his pupils are the millions who will be watching what is destined to be an award-winning documentary.

Between now and next Tuesday, the 50th anniversary of the President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,  I expect I will be learning a lot of American history, the portion that often is relegated to the month of February for so-called “Black History Month.”

freedomsummer-film_landing-dateWhat we’re hearing this week is about the history of all Americans who were involved in ensuring that everyone has equal rights to public accommodations and in the case of Freedom Summer, is able to cast a vote and participate in the political process.

Looking forward to the Premiere of Freedom Summer tomorrow night on PBS’ American Experience.

Hats off to Professor Nelson and the documentary filmmakers at Firelight Media who tell stories about people, places and cultures that are underrepresented in the mainstream media.


Remembering My Toughest Journalism Professor- Richmond Free Press Founder Raymond Boone

Mourning the loss of one of the nation’s best advocacy journalists, Raymond Boone, Founder of The Richmond Free Press, whose funeral takes place Tuesday in my hometown of Richmond, Va.

(Sanra Sellars-10/16/13)
Raymond Boone

Just received the very sad news tonight that one of my former journalism professors and former boss,  Richmond Free Press Founder Raymond Boone will be funeralized tomorrow in my hometown of Richmond, Va.

My parents thought I knew that he passed away last week after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

They remember Boone as the very tough editor who gave me a chance to get started as a reporter right after finishing my journalism degree at Howard University in 1992.

Even before I launched into the world of broadcast journalism as a television news producer, there was the newspaper writing that I had learned to do as a news-editorial journalism major.

If I look back at those Free Press stories now, I will see that almost always my lede (the first paragraph of a news story) was rewritten.   Mr. Boone made sure that I “nailed” the point of the story in that first paragraph.

The heavy editing of my copy did me some good, a lot of good.

The fact is Raymond Boone was well-acquainted (perhaps too acquainted) with my writing as he was a member of the journalism faculty at Howard University, before launching The Richmond Free Press.

The One Journalism Class I Had To Repeat

Even though I graduated cum laude  from Howard U.,  there were two classes I had to repeat.   Professor Boone’s Copyediting class was one of them.

Apparently, I was not acquainted quite well enough with the Associated Press Stylebook.

Yes, as a veteran campus reporter (and later editor-in-chief) for THE HILLTOP, I was insulted when I saw a “D” on my grade report  (You have to make a C- or higher for a journalism class to count toward graduation).

Professor Boone and my father were friends long before I ever stepped foot on Howard’s campus.  But,  that didn’t mean Boone was going to cut me any slack.

Here is the very first edition of The Richmond Free Press, which was published in 1992.
Here is the very first edition of The Richmond Free Press, which was published in 1992.

A Stalwart for Advocacy Journalism

When we talk about what it means to do advocacy journalism,  I will always point to Raymond Boone and his editorials as the best example how it’s done.

He was critical of many of those in power and even his rival newspaper publisher in town.

Boone was proudest of his effort to move the Free Press offices to a location that was within a few feet of the Media General headquarters (former owner of Richmond Times Dispatch) where the “corporate brass” for Times Dispatch worked.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I was a college intern at Media General’s now-defunct afternoon newspaper, The Richmond News Leader, in 1991.

In a story published last week in the Richmond Times Dispatch, the local daily newspaper in my hometown,  Tom Silvestri, publisher and president of the Times Dispatch, called Boone “a passionate publisher, a hard-charging editor, a frank editorial writer.”

Boone took strong stands on issues through the Free Press’ editorial pages.

To this day, I still receive copies of the weekly newspaper here in Alabama, via the U.S. mail.

Each edition is that good.

Sad, but Stronger

So tonight I’m saddened by the loss of such a strong voice for journalism that “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.”

More than a decade ago, after finishing my Ph.D. at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication,  I had a chance to have lunch with Professor Boone and tell him about my plans to join the journalism faculty here at The University of Alabama.

So I’m glad he got a chance to see one of his students whose journalism career he helped launch become a journalism professor.

I’m a stronger writer, a better journalist and a better journalism professor because of what Raymond Boone did a quarter century ago.   He will be missed.

Mixed Results in This Week’s Media Coverage of 60th Anniversary of Brown Decision

WIS-TV gets it right when reporting on the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Media must help resident see local relevance of anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court decision.

On this 60th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, the mass media have done an ok, though not outstanding, job of explaining the key issues still at play in public education today.
The 1954 decision declared that “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutional.  It eventually led to desegregation (but necessarily integration) of public school classrooms.

In a story that ran on the front page of my local newspaper here in Tuscaloosa this week, Associated Press Reporters Jesse Holland and Kimberly Hefling mostly focused on Gary Orfield’s “Brown at 60” report, which was released this week.

ABC News also published this same AP story.

Gary Orfield
Gary Orfield

Among other things, it found that in places like New York, California and Texas, more than half of Latino students are enrolled in schools that are 90 percent minority or more.  Orfield is a perennial expert on the issue of school desegregation.

The report is one of the few that gives a comprehensive look at where we stand as a nation.

The Civil Rights Project at UCLA is definitely to be commended for its work in this area.  I just have read an executive summary of the report released this week.

But, in reporting only on this “national” picture of Brown, the media may not go far enough.

These stories do little to make the issue of school desegregation (or in some cases “resegregation”) relevant to most Americans, in terms of their local schools.

With smaller news staffs,  most local news outlets probably didn’t bother to “localize” Holland and Hefling’s story.

While not as recent as the UCLA study,  the Brookings Institution looked at the overall issue of segregation in 2013 and examined the issue of class, which has to be included in any retrospective look at school desegregation.

Many of the pseudo-events  (i.e. rallies and press conferences) staged this week on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Brown called attention to the issue of resegregation.

For example, US News and World Report, on its web site, provided coverage of a rally by the National Education Association (NEA) among others.


WIS-TV recognizes Direct Beneficiaries of Brown

WIS-TV in Columbia, SC featured those who broke racial barriers more than a half-century ago in two South Carolina communities.
WIS-TV in Columbia, SC featured those who broke racial barriers more than a half-century ago in two South Carolina communities.

I haven’t seen many television stations like WIS-TV, which features Oveta Glover and Millicent Brown, who were among the first South Carolina students to attend all-white schools.

The NBC affiliate in Columbia, SC and perennial top-ranked Raycom-owned station included not only those from their market, but also someone who lived in Charleston (“the low country”) who was involved in desegregated schools there more than a half-century ago.

WIS-TV reporter Meaghan Norman gets a star for her story.

In spite of thin reporter ranks in, local news outlets, especially TV stations in the midst of May ratings sweeps, ought to be enterprising stories that make today’s discussion of race, education and equity relevant for their local viewers and readers.


University of Alabama Student Film on Journey to Integration Wins National Award, Showcases Student Journalists’ Role Then and Now

Daniel J. Roth’s film, “Stepping Through,” on University of Alabama’s 50-year-old journey to integration has been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists at the “Best Use of Multimedia.” It spots the role of UA’s student journalists in 1963 and 2013.

I suppose we should just be excited that UA Telecommunication and Film Student Daniel J. Roth beat out students at several of the nation’s top journalism schools to win the Society of Professional Journalists’ First National Student Award for “Best Use of Multimedia.”

The 17-minute film, “Stepping Through” was chosen as the National Winner in the Mark of Excellence Awards,  an annual recognition of the top student work in journalism.

It was chosen from among 11 other regional winners that included student work at the Missouri School of Journalism, Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State and the Merrill College of Journalism at University of Maryland.

In "Stepping Through," Abbey Crain and Matt Ford recall why they wrote they published their story about Alabama's segregated Greek system in September 11, 2013.
In “Stepping Through,” Abbey Crain and Matt Ford recall why they published their story about Alabama’s segregated Greek system in September 11, 2013.

While SPJ has recognized online student work for several years, this is first time an award is being given specifically for the “Best Use of Multimedia.”

While I did not serve on the awards committee or as a judge this year,  I know there has been an ongoing discussion about the best way to judge journalistic work that is produced online, given that most student publications have a website.

But,  my excitement is not about The University of Alabama being the first to win in this brand new category.

As both a multimedia journalism instructor of 11 years here at UA and an advocate for diversity, I am most excited that this award recognizes a film showing the role student journalists played in the integration of the University of Alabama 50 years ago in 1963 and in 2013 when the University’s Greek system was integrated.

In the film, Hank Black, editor-in-chief of The Crimson White 1963-64 recounts his involvement in the integration aspect of the University of Alabama.
In the film, Hank Black, editor-in-chief of The Crimson White 1963-64 recounts his involvement in the integration aspect of the University of Alabama.

Roth’s film includes extensive interviews with Hank Black, the editor-in-chief of The Crimson White from 1963-64, who spoke of his own personal role in encouraging students from the all-black Stillman College here in town to make the move that would make history.

His words today about showing his friend, the late Dr. James Hood (who Black knew as “Jimmy Hood”) around campus prompted the name of Roth’s film, “Stepping Through.”

“I went through this period of integration frankly shaking in my boots every day.  Yet there was nothing to do except go through it.  You have to just step through,” Black said.  “What I did was nothing compared to what Vivian and Jimmy did in facing their fears and stepping across that line into a world they didn’t know.”

Yet Black’s courage seems to have been repeated five decades later when Crimson White Culture Editor Abbey Crain and Magazine Editor Matt Ford published their award-winning story “The Final Barrier” on the still segregated Greek system.

“It was the right thing to do and it needed to be talked about, ” said Matt Ford.  “These barriers stopping change needed to be addressed,”

Roth’s film also included interviews with Melody Twilley-Zeidan, who was twice denied a chance to be in a traditionally white sorority and Wendell Hudson, the first black scholar athlete at the university.

The award for the best use of multimedia had an unintended impact in shining the light on the University’s diversity efforts and the students here both in the past and the present who are integrally involved in making the University of Alabama an inclusive campus.    I can think of so many other students who are not only concerned about diversity, but also producing media projects that are directed at effecting change.

We have  Daniel Roth to thank for capturing the University’s 50-year journey from integration to Greek system integration on film.  It’s exciting to know his film, which is our story as a University of Alabama family,  is being recognized as THE BEST student multimedia work in the nation this year.

Roth will be presented his award in September in Nashville at the 2014 Excellence in Journalism Conference, sponsored by the Society of Professional  Journalists and Radio-Television Digital News Association (RTDNA).

With Photos, Panel Discussion, Tuscaloosa Area Students Re-open Dialogue About Outcomes of School Desegregation

A brand new photo exhibit and a high school student panel discussion Friday at a downtown Tuscaloosa arts center re-visit issues over the desegregation of all U.S. schools, just two weeks before the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Five schools from Tuscaloosa's Northridge and Central High School participated in a panel discussion at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center Friday, May 2.
Five students from Tuscaloosa’s Northridge and Central High Schools participated in a panel discussion at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center Friday, May 2. NPR’s Gene Demby (far right) moderated the discussion.

Just two weeks before we officially mark the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision that desegregated American schools,  high school students in Tuscaloosa, Ala. laid out some issues in education that need to be discussed not only here, but across America.

Two generations removed from those who in the wake of 1954 Supreme Court decision broke racial barriers as black and white students began attending classes at the same schools, 20  students at Northridge High School and Central High School showed how a digital camera can capture the realities of so-called “resegregation” in 2014.

Starting Friday, May 2 and continuing through the May 17th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, the fruit of their labor with the camera lens is on display at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center in downtown Tuscaloosa.  To coincide with the opening of the photo exhibit, ProPublica hosted a screening of Maisie Crow’s mini-documentary Saving Central, which was produced in conjunction with the publication of  “Segregation Now” story in the May issue of The Atlantic Magazine.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative reporter with ProPublica produced "Segregation Now" for The Atlantic Magazine.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative reporter with ProPublica, produced “Segregation Now” for The Atlantic Magazine.

“On top of me writing an article, we wanted to give students a chance to show what race in education looks like for them instead of adults always speaking for them,” said Nikole Hanna-Jones, the award-winning investigative journalist who spent more than a year researching the situation in the Tuscaloosa City Schools.

“She is basically the best reporter on desegregation and integration out there,” said Gene Demby of National Public Radio’s Code Switch Team, which focuses on issues of race, ethnicity and culture.

Demby moderated a brief panel discussion Friday, which featured five of the 20 students whose photography work followed up on issues raised in Hanna-Jones’ reporting on resegregation.

Taking Action

The students wrote six-word essays as part of The Race Card Project, but also captured images using digital camera that served as a status report on the situation with race in the Tuscaloosa City Schools.

The glaring omission from the group of students who were involved were those from the city’s eastside at Paul W. Bryant High School.

“We picked Northridge [High School] because it’s the most integrated high school in the city.  And we picked Central [High School] because it’s the most segregated high school in the city,” Hanna-Jones said.  “They produced really amazing work, beautiful photos that tell the truth that not just Tuscaloosa, but communities all across this country are largely ignoring.”

The Issues:  Through Today’s Students’ Eyes

ISSUE 1:  EXPOSURE to those of other races

Students were queried about the whole idea that 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education, schools that did desegregate are now segregated again.  In Tuscaloosa, Northridge High School is the best example of an integrated high school setting.

“I actually am happy that I go to the school that I do because I am able to interact with people of other races rather than just black and white,  said Camri Mason, sophomore at Northridge High School.

“We all learned about Brown versus Board of Education in history class, but you never really think segregation still exists in our school system,”  said Rebecca Griesbach, a sophomore at Northridge High School.  “I remember the first time we collaborated with the students at Central and they told us that they really had any diversity at all and it really shocked me.”


Perhaps the topic that received the most attention during the panel discussion was Tuscaloosa City School System’s allocation of resources to the three high schools.   Pre-1954, predominantly black schools were known to have inferior textbooks and sub-par facilities compared to white schools.   The desegregation of the schools was supposed to correct that problem.

Today, with re-segregated schools, the matter of “unequal” class offerings was identified as an example of how the experiences of the more integrated Northridge High School was different from the nearly all-black Central High School.

Board Vice Chair Earnestine Tucker, who several years ago raised the issue of why Physics courses were not offered all the schools, tonight made it clear that now “resources were not the issue,” even though some of the students felt that they were not getting all the resources that were needed.   In some cases, something as similar as a whiteboard was mentioned as a lacking piece of equipment at one school.

After a somewhat heated exchange between members of the audience and those on the panel,  it was suggested that students needed to know the manner for requesting resources when they are needed at their school.


During the question-and-answer session,  a member of the audience introduced the matter of segregated sororities and fraternities,  a problem that cast the University of Alabama’s Greek System into the national spotlight last fall.    Students from the local high schools were asked if this type of segregation was evident at their high schools.

One of the student panelists indicated segregated student sororities are a problem at the high school level. Often these sororities are “by invitation only.”

At least two questions were asked tonight about why students living a few minutes from one school were zoned to travel a far distance to another school?

Clearly the concept of “neighborhood” school is not fully understood or being implemented to the satisfaction of all in Tuscaloosa.

Through The Camera Lens

Jazmine Thompson, a senior at Central High School, had four photos in the exhibit at Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center in downtown Tuscaloosa.

Many of the 15 students who did not participate in the panel discussion expressed themselves through the photos that are on display at the Cultural Arts Center.

Among them is Jazmine Thompson, a senior at Central High School.

Thompson says she’s found herself frequently having to dispel myths about students at her school being under-achieving or not having the same excitement about their school as Northridge High School and Bryant High School.

“We do have school spirit like other two schools, “said Thompson, who recalls painting her own face half red and half white as part homecoming.

Thompson plans to attend Shelton State Community College, which is located in Tuscaloosa,  in the fall.

In the past, she’s written stories for her school publications.

Meanwhile at Northridge High School, James Niiler, who will be the editor of award-winning Northridge Reporter next year, took some photos that were included in the exhibit.   His photo entitled “BUSED” was designed to show the experience that many face when they are transported out to his high school north of time.

James Niiler is a sophomore at Northridge High School and member of the staff of The Northridge Reporter.

Niiler also participated in the panel discussion.

“We can’t constantly be focusing on the wrongness of the past,” said Niileer, who recalls attending school with people from different racial groups virtually all of his life, including during a brief school experience in Texas.  “We just have to learn to live together.”

Clearly the students at Central High School and Northridge High School are learning a lot about the educational dilemmas that face our nation six decades after Brown v. Board of Education.

When May 17th rolls around later this month,  the nation can turn to these Tuscaloosa area students for an understanding of where we are as a nation in providing equal access to a quality education to all children.

“The whole point of this exhibit was the be able to foster a conversation, to be able to see the truth through photography and then invite the community in, talk about the issues and decide what is to be done,” said Hannah Jones.