Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky
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Executive Producer Betsy Brinson
what if we
finally remembered
how the dogon in us
sat crosslegged
on a rock
in the rain
closed our eyes
and traveled around the moon
and past the sun
how we
scooped up a handful
of earth
and charted the solar system
as it sifted through
our fingers
of stars
at a time
forming symmetrical
twin         sands
breast     castles

what if
we finally realized
the infinite power
of our collective wisdom
married to action
and simply
walked out onto space
passing through
all the barriers
that we let
hold us back
held hands
and thought
this is our earth
let us save it
for the children

“Dogon” by Frank X Walker
from Affrilachia

For executive producer Dr. Betsy Brinson, the documentary Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky is just one part of an ambitious undertaking: collecting and preserving the stories of Kentuckians who were part of the state’s civil rights history.

For nearly four years, she and others involved in the project have traveled the state collecting the 175 interviews that were used in the documentary and that will be preserved by the Kentucky Historical Society for future generations.

“There is very little written documentation of the civil rights movement in Kentucky,” says Brinson. “It was really important to collect the stories of the people who were part of it. Once they’re gone, the opportunity is lost.”

A native of North Carolina, Brinson moved to Kentucky at an opportune time, she says. In 1998, the Oral History Commission initiated the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky Oral History Project. She is the project’s director.

Brinson has her own experiences with the civil rights movement in North Carolina, and she is a historian of social movements. But as the project progressed, she was surprised to see her own stereotypes of Kentucky shattered. “I didn’t know Kentucky,” she says. “I was surprised at the violence that went on here.

“Kentucky’s part in the civil rights movement is interesting because it’s a border state,” she continues. “Though voting was not an issue, it was a true segregated society in terms of schools, jobs, public accommodations, etc.”

Finding people to tell their stories was done mostly by word-of-mouth, says Brinson. “People I had not expected to be willing to work with me thought it was important that these stories be told.”

Of the 175 people interviewed, 15 are included in the documentary. “The vivid recollections of the men and women presented in the program clearly illustrate the depth of commitment of Kentuckians to social justice here and in the nation,” Brinson says.

—Marianne Mosley

Living the Story > About the Project > Betsy Brinson