CLEVELAND, Miss.— On Monday, March 10, 1969, a courageous group of African American students staged a sit-in at Delta State University as part of mounting efforts to advocate for recognition, inclusion and fair treatment on campus. Now, they’re re-telling the story of the quickly escalating series of events that unfolded that historical day, in their own words, in the award-winning documentary, “Voices from the Sit-in” set to be screened for the first time on Delta State’s campus Oct. 4.
Filmed by current Delta State students, under the tutelage of Delta State Assistant Professor of Art Ted Fisher, at the Digital Media Arts Center at Delta State, this 27-minute documentary brings to life an important story through lived experiences recalled across five decades.
To date, the film has been featured in six film festivals across the nation, including the Fort Smith International Film Festival, where it won the “Best Documentary Short Film” award and the Deep in the Heart Film Festival where it was nominated for “Best Documentary Short.”
The campus and community are invited to the Delta & Pine Land Theatre, located in the Bologna Performing Arts Center on Delta State’s campus, from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 4, for the public screening, which will include special appearances by sit-in participants and film producers.
The event is free and open to the general public.
“This film provides a valuable snapshot into the thoughts, actions, and outcomes of the 1969 sit-in on campus by a courageous group of African American students,” said Delta State President William N. LaForge.
“It offers insight into those changing times and how Delta State has become a better university. It provides inspiration for us all to see the value of fostering racial understanding and harmony, and educational equity and opportunity, for all people as we build a better world together.”
The storyline follows protestors Maggie Daily Crawford, Mary Carter, Talmadge Davis, Jr. and Muriel McCraney Lucas, all of Cleveland, Miss., as they relive the tense experience of that important moment in Delta State’s history.
The film also features appearances by 1969 Student Government Association President James W. Powers; Delta State Professors Georgene Clark and Dr. Charles Westmoreland; and current student Sykina Butts, who has been recording an oral history of the participants’ stories.
According to Fisher, director and producer of the documentary, the oral histories are what sparked the initial interest in bringing the story to life on film.
“This is history that needed to be unburied,” said Fisher. “It was almost invisible before efforts with the oral history project, led by Dr. Arlene Sanders, Dr. Carrie Freshour, students Tyler Wells, Sykina Butts and others.”
Filming for the project began in the Fall of 2019 and progressed steadily until the on-set of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Students were very excited to work on it, but we shifted to online classes and were in two different places suddenly,” said Fisher. “We also couldn’t interview in the studio and put sit-in participants, many of whom are in their 70s, at risk.”
Despite the challenges, Fisher said the end result is a film he and his students are proud to share.
“I think this film is going to be really enjoyed and we’re going to be proud to see it on the big screen. I do think that having an audience with people involved with the film and who care about the film is going to be an experience unlike any other.”
Event organizer Michelle Johansen, chair of the Delta State’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, said she’s excited to help highlight this little-known moment in history for today’s generation.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the entire team at Delta State – alumni, students, faculty, retired employees, and staff – who have worked tirelessly, especially during an unprecedented pandemic, to create this film,” said Johansen.
“Most importantly, though, I appreciate the generosity of the 1969 sit-in participants who shared their stories with us. They are the heroes of this project, and they continue to be catalysts for change, inspiring the newest generation of young student leaders on our campus,” she added.
Sponsors for the “Voices from the Sit-in” screening include the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, the Mississippi Humanities Council and Delta State University.
For questions or more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.