Saturday, September 21, 2013

Social Injustice Explored as Appalachian Festival Kicks Off With Film Viewing

The Appalachian Festival is an annual event that guests of all ages comes to enjoy. The Festival takes place in Frostburg, Maryland in order to celebrate the culture of the Appalachian Mountains. Throughout the 3-day weekend excursion, there is local food, musical performers, a petting zoo, in addition to small shop vendors set up under the tents. The musical acts and food vendors pull in the crowd every year, but before the tents are even completely set-up, film festival takes place Thursday to kick off the events.
                In the Compton Science Center, a room was set apart for the viewing of the chosen films. One of the films viewed was “Anne Braden: Southern Patriot.” Sociology Professor, Kara Rogers-Thomas, PhD. introduced the film with an explanation of the theme for this year’s festival. “We want to explore social justice issues in Appalachian culture,” she explained to the group of students; primarily of which only attended for extra-credit purposes, which she also jokingly acknowledged in her introduction. Nevertheless, the students had their paper handy and minimal lighting left on so that they can write in a straight line.
                The film began and a glazed expression was adopted by most of the viewers, many with their faces aglow by the shining of the iOS7 iPhone update. The introductory credits were short and soon interrupted by a slow, gravelly voice that sounded worn but strong. The camera panned to Anne Braden, sitting in a small desk chair, not far from that of high-school students’, and she was speaking to a room of women. Braden began with a modest explanation as to why she has been invited to share her story. “People are more interested in people…until they learn about the issues, then they can focus on that” she says, perhaps urging them to listen to the problems, rather than her personal opinion on the problem.
                Many of the viewers were still looking at their phones, too important to be burdened to pay full attention, but a few tore their gazes from the artificial light that is sure to be the cause of early blindness to give Anne their attention. Braden’s story began with her early family life. She lived with her well-off family in Alabama. Her parents supported segregation and had an African American woman clean their home. The woman that cleaned the house had a daughter close to Anne’s age, and Anne recalled seeing the daughter wearing a shirt that Anne no longer fit, but the garment did not fit the daughter either. She said that she remembered feeling as though it did not make sense that these people were not equal to her. She knew even as a child that it was not right.
                Anne worked in Birmingham at a newspaper and she frequently covered in her stories the injustices that were occurring between the races. She recalled that one day, she was sitting in a restaurant and the waitress was a young black woman. She said that the man she was sitting with asked her about the latest story she was working on. Anne replied, “Nothing, just a colored murder.” The waitress’s hand began to shake but she did not say anything or show emotion on her face. Anne recalled that she wanted to hug her and apologize whilst explaining that she did not mean what she said; until she realized that she had meant exactly what she said.
                The attention in the room was fully on the screen. One or two devices are still shining in the dark, but the rest of the room is listening intently, taking in the horrific stories recounted by Anne herself, and from old friends that she kept. The adventures she took in effort to bring civil liberty in a time of turmoil and hatred rang in the ears of students who have not experienced hatred to that degree. Stories of house-bombs, mobs, lynching, jail-time for charges that could not possibly been proven; a world unimaginable to them.

                As the final credits ran, the room brightened and the students stood up, stretched, and checked their phones to make sure no Twitter emergency occurred in their momentary absence. 20 year old Junior, Gina, turned around, “I’m glad I came,” she said with a yawn. The irony of her body language is not lost, but the lack of humor in her eyes as she left, said that she heard something she would not forget. 

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