For the last thirty seven years, Dr. Paul Murray of the Siena College Sociology Department has taught a Civil Rights Movement course. Now, this course isn’t what most may think and while it does examine the major events and people that we hear about in textbooks such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and the famous bus boycott, and the words of Malcolm X, this class goes a little bit deeper. Dr. Paul Murray, along with his students, discusses the average, everyday people that were there, the ones that were the inspirational and driving force behind the events of the Civil Rights Movement.
This past spring semester, Dr. Murray knew he would be retiring and that this Civil Rights Movement class would be his last. He, along with the help of some of his students, filmed every single class and discussion. He invited many of his friends whom had witnessed and even participated in these events firsthand, to speak to the class about their experiences. Over the course of the semester, the class quickly grew to more than just a group of college students. Dr. Murray’s friends who were invited, along with other professors from various areas, often stayed to discuss topics with students and small groups of high school students often attended the meetings as well. Dr. Murray, along with two of his students, spent six weeks over the summer compiling and editing over thirty hours of footage and placing together the amazing stories into a film that I was able to view tonight.
As soon as I entered the room, I could immediately feel the sense of community among the audience members. Everyone seemed to know one another and I could tell that each and every one of them had come to support Dr. Murray! Even some of Dr. Murray’s students from the Civil Rights Movement class and his First Year Seminar classes were able to attend the event and I can quite honestly say that I’m very disappointed that I was not able to take the Civil Rights class with Dr. Murray! He was so welcoming and greeted each person who came in the room, even when they entered in the middle of his introduction.
The film itself was none other than incredible. Throughout my years as a student, I have been taught the same aspects of the Civil Rights Movement in all of my history classes. Like others, I was only given information about the major figures and events that occurred during the time, but this film allowed me to see the genuine experiences from people who had actually lived during the Civil Rights Movement. Each of the firsthand accounts, particularly by Jim Owens, Mikki Conn, and the dean of the School of Liberal Arts, Jim Harrison. At only eighteen years old, Mikki Conn was arrested for sitting with a group of white people in a segregated cafe and spent the weekend in jail. I couldn’t believe how young she was! However, the actions that each of these speakers took during the Civil Rights Movement to make a difference was extraordinarily humbling. The major figures that arose during the Civil Rights Movement that we are taught in our history classes did make a difference, but it was the decisions and actions of the citizens that really fueled the movement.
Were you able to attend the event? If you did, leave a comment and let me know what you think!