Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"Ain't Scared of Your Jails"

We are basing three classes this month on this program from the Eyes on the Prize documentary series. The film includes two case studies of nonviolent social change in the southern United States in the early 1960's, led by students of your age. The first case involves students challenging the businesses of downtown Nashville, Tennessee -- businesses who would sell goods to black customers but would not serve them at cafes and lunch counters.

The second case tells the story of the Freedom Riders, whose campaign was directed at the treatment of black passengers on interstate buses. The Supreme Court had already ruled that all interstate passengers had to be treated equally, but in violation of this ruling, some southern states still required black passengers and white passengers to use separate facilities. The Freedom Riders were both black and white students, who traveled as teams; the white students would insist on using the facilities reserved for blacks, and the black students insisted on using the white facilities. The campaign encountered a wave of hysterical violence, some of which is captured in this film.

Our Listening Comprehension class is not a history class, but I don't know of a better way of introducing you to such a wide variety of American English dialects than showing you this film. In comparing pronunciation and speech patterns, pay special attention to these speakers:
  • Ben West (mayor)
  • Diane Nash (student, movement leader)
  • Rev. C.T. Vivian (local minister in Nashville)
  • John Lewis (student, Freedom Rider--today a member of the U.S. Congress)
  • James Farmer (organizer of the Freedom Ride campaign, co-founder of Congress of Racial Equality)
  • John Patterson (governor of Alabama)
  • John Siegenthaler (a Southerner who served as special assistant to Bobby Kennedy)
  • Bobby Kennedy (U.S. Attorney General and brother of President John F. Kennedy)
  • Frederick Leonard (student, Freedom Rider; his story of the prison in Mississippi is to my mind the climax of the film)
The film is not subtitled, but you can find the transcript here. (If that link doesn't open, try here.) Discussion questions are below the video.

Discussion questions:

Eyes on the Prize, part 3 “Ain’t Scared of Your Jails” (first half)
  1. Why was the sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina, a “direct challenge to southern tradition”?
  2. Ben West was the mayor of what city?
  3. When Leo Lillard tasted the water in both drinking fountains and asked his mother about the two fountains, why didn’t she answer him directly?
  4. Why did Diane Nash “so keenly” resent segregation?
  5. Rev. C.T. Vivian describes the workshops in nonviolence led by Jim Lawson. He says that the workshops taught people to “begin to take the blows” and respond with—what?
  6. John Lewis, now a member of Congress, described the first sit-ins of the campaign that followed the workshops. Why did the students dress “like they were on the way to church”?
  7. Diane Nash says that the waitresses were so nervous that “they must have dropped $2,000 worth of dishes that day.” Why were the waitresses nervous?
  8. Narrator: “The sit-ins continued without incident for almost two weeks.” Then what happened?
  9. Narrator: “Nashville’s mayor, Ben West, was faced with more than maintaining public order.” What was the challenge he faced?
  10. Matthew’s mother will never forget her son’s call from the jail. What did he tell her? Why do you think she reacted the way she did?
  11. What power did the parents of the jailed children use to resist?
  12. What happened on April 19 at 5:30 in the morning?
  13. What question did Diane Nash ask Mayor West? How did he respond?
  14. What did Mayor West mean when he said this? “I would answer it in the same way again because it was a moral question and it was one that a man has to answer and not a politician.”
Eyes on the Prize
, part 3 “Ain’t Scared of Your Jails” (second half).
  1. Why did Ella Baker recommend that the students form an independent organization?
  2. Why did neither major political party take public action at this point in the civil rights movement?
  3. What phone call did Robert Kennedy make and how did it benefit his brother John Kennedy’s presidential campaign?
  4. Who was the original target of the Freedom Rides, and why?
  5. Why were the Freedom Riders angry with the Federal Bureau of Investigation?
  6. After John Seigenthaler’s visit to Alabama, what did state officials promise? 
  7. What then actually happened as the Freedom Riders’ bus approached Montgomery, Alabama, and arrived at the station? (Frederick Leonard said "Whssssh, magic!" What was he referring to?)
  8. What was U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s response to the events in Montgomery?
  9. What was the situation when Martin Luther King addressed the people in the Baptist Church in Montgomery?
  10. What was the Freedom Riders’ next destination? How many riders were there?Why was there (quoting Frederick Leonard) “no violence in Mississippi”?
  11. The Freedom Riders were sentenced to a term of how many days at Parchman Farm (the maximum security prison in Mississippi)?
  12. What was the one book the prisoners were allowed to have? What seemed strange to the staff about the prisoners’ behavior? How did the staff respond to the prisoners?
  13. What decision did Leonard make, and whom did he tell about this decision?
  14. What did he mean when he said “Hurt Peewee more than it hurt me”?

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