Sunday, September 22, 2013

AppFest film festival highlights civil rights legend Braden

               Thursday night marked the kick-off of this year’s Appalachian Festival, an annual occurrence every fall on the campus of Frostburg State University. This year, the festival was started off with a film festival, located in room 226 of the Compton Science Center. This year, echoing the apparent theme of the entire festival, social justice was the main topic of the films shown.

                Dr. Kara Rogers-Thomas of the Sociology department at Frostburg and Dr. Melissa Boehm of the Mass Communications department presented the crowd of about 70 people with the films of the evening. Both films were produced by independent film company AppalShop, and directed by Anne Lewis and Anne Pickering. Dr. Boehm remarked to the crowd, “These are two of my favorite directors. Both are women, and both always focus on social justice in their works.”

                The first film, entitled “Anne Braden: Southern Patriot”, highlighted the life of a relatively unknown figure of the American Civil Rights Movement. The subject of the film, Anne Braden, lived from 1921 until 2006. The film lasted approximately 80 minutes, and included many different clips of interviews with friends in both her personal life and her work in civil rights.

Braden was born in Aston, Ala., to a middle-class upbringing in the time of Jim Crow laws. Family and friends interviewed in the film remarked about Braden’s willingness to challenge the status quo, even as a teenager, when she challenged the prescribed roles for women.

                Braden started as a newspaper reporter in Birmingham, and following an encounter with an African-American waitress at a local restaurant in which she used the term “colored”, noticed the angst in the woman, and left her role at the paper, which often took anti-civil rights positions. She began her social organizing career in organized labor in Louisville, Kentucky, where she moved to as a young woman following her ordeal in Birmingham. Her start in labor kick-started her organizing spirit and she became active in many social causes.

                After being ridiculed publically as a “traitor to their race” and called Communists, Braden and her husband Carl, fought for the cause of civil rights through legal battles, death threats, and even personal tragedy when the couple lost their daughter Anita at age 10 to a rare heart and lung defect. As members of the Southern Conference Education Fund, or SCEF, Braden worked alongside civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr.

After the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Braden continued to fight for causes such as school integration, and against the reorganization of the Ku Klux Klan, the repeal of Affirmative Action, and the Iraq War. Even up until her death in 2006, Braden was marching alongside fellow activists such as Cornel West, and speaking at rallies against police brutality in cities across the South.

The audience at the film festival seemed to have a very positive outlook on the film and the story it portrayed. Kashaud Bowman, a Business Administration student at FSU from Baltimore said, “I really liked how [Braden] was able to stand up and speak out in a time of controversy. I really admired her bravery and her acceptance of everyone.” Madison Rhoads, a freshman business student, when asked what she admired the most about Braden said, “I really liked how dedicated she was to her cause.”

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