Wednesday, February 9, 2011

When I Rise--a documentary that quietly says it all about the struggle for civil rights

When I Rise is a documentary about Barbara Smith Conrad, a talented woman who was among the first African Americans admitted to the University of Texas at Austin in 1957. This woman, who auditioned for and got the role of of Dido in the opera Dido and Aenaes, was then denied the right to sing by the Texas State Legislature only because of the color of her skin . Her representative to that legislature was the man responsible for having her removed from the role.

Her dignity and courage during that shameful incident and her subsequent successful career and the efforts by that same legislature and university to make it right, is the story that says it all about the struggle for civil rights. If I taught a class, I would use this film. She was raised during a time when African Americans rightfully feared for their lives at the hands of the white people in power. Although there are no dogs or hoses or beatings, it is her story, quietly and beautifully told, that so eloquently says why, to paraphrase what Dr. King said, it is the content of their character, and in Ms. Conrad's case, her absolute talent, by which people should be judged, not the color of their skin.

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