Two weeks ago I was at the 20th anniversary event for the Fair Housing Center of Southeastern Michigan. The evening included a showing of the Oscar-nominated short documentary, The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement. No, the movie didn't win the Oscar for short documentary. It was, however, very moving (and worth your time)--and in its honor, I have two thoughts on the second-to-last day of Black History Month 2012 and the day of the Republican primary.
I was--literally--toddling around my house at the time of the civil rights movement. So the history of the civil rights movement is just that to me--history--even though many of the struggles live on today. This documentary brings that history alive. In particular, the barber (James Armstrong) gave me a renewed appreciation for how groundbreaking the election of Barack Obama was. . . and the path that connects those civil rights activists with his election. The documentary shows some moving footage of the day of the 2008 election, and it honestly did get me excited for the 2012 election. When the "foot soldiers" describe the difficulties they had in registering to vote, it is a reminder to me of how much we should cherish that opportunity. So often history is told in a dry manner. Not in this case.
And part of that history involves the desegregation of the schools. I've written in the past about efforts to desegregate the Ann Arbor schools. In Birmingham, James Armstrong's children were part of the desegregation effort of the Birmingham schools, and there is historic footage of those children walking to school, as well as contemporary footage of one of them as an adult. There is also discussion of the church bombings in Birmingham. Really, there is a lot packed into a short film!
I'm hoping that you will see The Barber of Birmingham, but whether you do or not, it is important to remember that school segregation--though banished by law--still exists in many many schools around the nation. To keep that history alive, I'm including here a video produced by the Baltimore Sun about the history of school desegregation in Baltimore.