By Eleanor Angel, Chattanooga, TN–A documentary film called “Reaching the Light: The Story of the Desegregation of the University of Chattanooga” was debuted last February and shown again Tuesday Feb. 5 in the UC auditorium.
The film was written and directed by Betsy Alderman, communication department head.
The co-producer, writer and scoring were by professor Felicia McGhee-Hilt along with co-producer, professor Mike Andrews. The post production was done by Robert Smith, a senior from Knoxville.
The documentary takes a look at the desegregation of the University in the 1960s. The University was a private school at the time. According to the documentary abstract, “It features the perspectives of those involved including the first Black graduate and undergraduate students, UC faculty members, administrators and students and local Civil Rights leaders.”
The film also focuses on the efforts to make the desegregation process “one of the most peaceful in the nation,” according to the abstract.
Professor Andrews said that one of the struggle with the documentary was that there was very little film footage from the 1960s.
“We had to piece everything together as far as photos were concerned,” Andrews said.
Andrews said that the thing that sticks out to him in the film is not one main point but all the little personal stories that are told in the film.
“It was really a remarkable experience,” Andrews said of his time in the creation of the documentary. Andrews said that the students that came to view the film were interested, genuine, and had lots of good questions.
Smith works in the TV studio and was asked by Alderman to edit the film. Smith said he gladly accepted the challenge. “After the documentary was screened, I was able to meet a few of the first black students admitted to the University. They were extremely grateful that we were able to tell their story,” Smith said.
“It accomplished everything we set out to do and more,” Smith said. “One family even mentioned that their grandmother had never been recognized by the public for what she had to go through as a black college student. They were delighted that she was recognized before she passed away.”
Smith said that it is sometimes hard for our generation to connect to this topic because desegregation seems like an old story.
“Seeing the faces of people who struggled through segregation, and getting to meet people with such compelling stories changed the way I looked at this part of American history,” Smith said. “I’d invite the student body to take a second look at something as integral as our nation’s civil rights movement.”
The production team is looking into making the documentary available to all students in the library in the future. Alderman strongly suggests anyone should view the film.
“I encourage students, faculty and staff to see this moving story of the struggle to desegregate the university during turbulent times in America. Everyone can learn a lessons from the very brave first black students who made the school a more open place for everyone,” she said.