Making the Grades
February 1st, 2000 marked the 40th anniversary of the first "sit-in" when four African-American university students walked into F.W. Woolworth in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina and took a seat at the "whites only" lunch counter.
Their simple request for coffee provided many African-Americans with the courage and determination to try this new tactic of non-violent demonstrations in their fight for desegregation. But nowhere was the battle tougher than in Mississippi. With the state's government determined to maintain segregation in all public places, and the presence of militant clan groups who imposed their own form of law, a victory in Mississippi became anti-segregation groups' ultimate goal.
Freedom Song concentrates on the efforts of many young African-Americans who, with guidance and wisdom from their elders, put themselves in dangerous situations -- like going to the library or ordering a soda. Set in the small fictional town of Quinlan, Mississippi, the story portrays the struggles of Owen Walker (Vicellous Reon Shannon), a young man at odds with his father Will (Danny Glover) who is afraid his son's anti-segregation activities will jeopardize the family's livelihood and safety.
Wanting to take an aggressive stand against the injustice, Owen and many of his friends are trained to protest peacefully when a representative of the Student Non-Violent Coordination Committee visits Quinlan. But their peaceful assistance in educating their people so they can register to vote infuriates the white population, leading to the brutal beatings of men and women.
Freedom Song's director and co-writer, Phil Alden Robinson, used factual events from the real town of McComb, Mississippi as the basis and setting for the movie because it fit the "smallest possible corner" he needed to tell this story from a grass roots level.
Released to television in February to celebrate the anniversary of the Woolworth sit-in, Freedom Song is now available on video. With some scenes accurately portraying the brutal violence inflicted upon protestors and one on-screen shooting, parents and teachers would be wise to preview this fine film. Although not appropriate for all age groups, the anti-prejudice theme and historical content make it a song worth singing.