FIlM EXPlORES A SCHOOl’S DESEGREGATION
Even after four decades the emotions of the participants in the film 40 Years Later: Now Can We Talk? are raw, as the first African American students to attend South Panola High School in Batesville, Mississippi, shared their memories in a documentary that premiered on the Barnard campus in September. The three women who created the piece— Professor Lee Anne Bell, the Barbara Silver Horowitz Director of Education at Barnard, educator and advocate Fern Khan, and director Markie Hancock—hope it will promote dialogues about the power of educators to create environments that foster learning for everyone.
“We didn’t have a clue about what we were getting into,” says Cheryl Johnson, from South Panola’s class of 1969, describing what awaited the black students when their parents decided to send them to a previously all-white high school.
When Johnson and her black classmates were invited to the South Panola reunion—the first invitation they had received from the school since their graduation—she started doing Web searches to find someone who could help them tell their stories. She found Bell’s Web site with information about the professor’s ongoing project to use storytelling to teach students about race, racism, and social justice. Johnson contacted Bell, telling her about the reunion and that she and her classmates, most of whom eventually moved from Mississippi, had never discussed their experiences with each other or with any of their white classmates. Recalls Bell, “I naïvely (not having ever made a film) said, ‘Seems like an historic occasion and we should film it.’”
Johnson consulted her 12 black classmates and all agreed to participate. Bell enlisted Hancock Productions; what Bell terms a ‘just-in-time’ grant