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Wisconsin Historical Society to host civil rights film series

December 13, 2013

Photo: African-Americans with voting rights signs

A group of African-Americans picketing for voting rights and civil rights in Washington, D.C. in the 1960s. The year 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Photo: Wisconsin Historical Society

The Wisconsin Historical Society will host a four-part documentary film series, “Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggles,” at the society’s Madison headquarters at 816 State St. from February through April.

The film series will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer and the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act. History and law professors will show segments of four powerful documentaries and then lead a discussion of the films with audience members.

All of the films will be free and open to the public and will be shown at 7 p.m.

The first film in the series, “The Abolitionists,” vividly brings to life the struggles of the men and women who led the battle to end slavery. Assistant professor of history Andrew Kahrl of Marquette University will moderate the post-screening discussion on Wednesday, Feb. 5.

The film series will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer and the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act. 

Professor Tonya Brito of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Law School will moderate the second film, “The Loving Story,” on Tuesday, March 4. Through little-known filmed interviews and photographs shot for Life magazine, the film tells the story of Mildred and Richard Loving. Virginia police woke them up in their bedroom in the middle of the night and arrested them for being an interracial couple.

On Tuesday, March 25, associate history Professor Edward Schmitt of UW-Parkside will moderate the Emmy Award-winning “Freedom Riders.” The film tells the terrifying story of white and black volunteers who rode a bus into the Deep South, risking assaults and arrest as white local and state authorities ignored or encouraged violent attacks.

History Professor Will Jones of UW–Madison will close out the series with a talk and discussion of “Slavery by Another Name” on Tuesday, April 22. This film features interviews with the descendants of victims and perpetrators of trumped-up crimes in the Deep South intended to create a captive force of unpaid labor.

The National Endowment for the Humanities, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Bridging Cultures initiative have underwritten the “Created Equal” film series.

While only segments of the four films will air due to their length, the society will make the films available in their entirety in its library Reading Room. They may also be viewed online at

The society will showcase its own extensive civil rights collections online during the three-month run of the film series, including a host of official records, personal papers, letters and diaries, racist propaganda, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, and photographs and graphics documenting Freedom Summer.

One of the society’s other unique and extensive collections relating to civil rights is its collection of African-American newspapers and periodicals. A number of other society civil rights records can be explored on UW-Milwaukee’s March on Milwaukee website.

For more information on the “Created Equal” film series or the society’s civil rights collections, contact Rick Pifer or Gayle Martinson at 608-264-6477, weekdays 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., or 608-264-6535, weekdays 4 to 9 p.m.

—Bob Granflaten