This is definitely the first time I’ve seen a panel discussion in the dark.
An hour into the free screening of Freedom Summer at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum the lights cut out suddenly, accidentally adding a dramatic effect to the intensity of the civil rights documentary.
Power went out in downtown Greensboro, a museum spokesperson said, but after a moment of regrouping, the program proceeded as planned. And that meant a panel taking a stage, illuminated by only a light on an organizer’s phone, tackling weighty issues in the dark.
“It’s not every night that you get to go to a lights-out event at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum,” panelist and Beloved Community Center organizer Wesley Morris joked.
And for the next hour, many of the people in the packed auditorium stayed. As the event started to wind down the lights suddenly jolted back on, and though it was too late to resume the screening, organizers seemed to have driven their point home.
The film — which chronicled the 1964 Freedom Summer efforts to organize black communities in Mississippi through voter registration, free schools and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party — was shown to draw parallels with North Carolina today. Sponsored by a bevy of left-wing state and local organizations, the film outlined the inspiration for this year’s Moral Freedom Summer, a pushback against the Republican-dominated General Assembly.
“We are in the fight of our lives,” Democracy NC field organizer Linda Sutton said, urging attendees to do something about voter ID laws and other regressive legislation over the next several months. Otherwise, she warned, “We will be back in 1964 Mississippi.”
The Beloved Community Center, where Morris works, hosted a training program at Bennett College for 40 young organizers who fanned out across 40 North Carolina counties to continue the struggle that has evolved from the fight 50 years ago in Mississippi, he said.
Morris talked about the inspiration he drew from the unity of spirit, goals and focus demonstrated by the young, interracial group of organizers shown in the film, adding that the Moral Freedom Summer participants are “definitely connected to some very heavy lifting by our elders.”
“We are in a time of, I would say, rampant abuse of state power…,” Morris said, “but let us not forget hope, because that’s what I’m here for.”
Much of the discussion on the panel, based on questions from the audience, focused on how to build a social-justice movement that fused a variety of concerns rather than focusing on a singular form of oppression. Questions from one audience member, about whether voting and other issues were a distraction from the disintegration of black family, led panelists to draw explicit links between struggles.
Undocumented activist Moises Serrano, one of the panelists, told a story about waking up as an 8-year-old when his family found a white cross planted in their yard. Serrano’s experience with a modern incarnation of the white supremacy and vitriol, particularly after the film’s considerable focus on the murder of three Freedom Summer workers, reverberated strongly through the audience.
“Blind ignorance and blind hatred towards the other is still alive,” Serrano said, summing up the event’s thesis. “The struggle for civil rights has never ended. It has just evolved.”