William Harris ’24 Creates Short Film Highlighting the Civil Rights Movement
This past fall semester, William Harris ('24) took Professor Loan Dao’s Intro to Ethnic Studies course. For his final project, he submitted a six minute short film that examines the history of the Civil Rights movement, touching on the 14th amendment, Jim Crow laws, and segregation. Harris expertly weaves in historical images that remind the audience how far we have come, and yet how far we have to go to achieve equality.
In the last 30 seconds of the film, Harris shares his personal thoughts, “Even though African Americans made alot of progress in the way they were treated in America at the time, we still to this day are seeing the discrimination and hatred towards African Americans in our country, with the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor being two recent cases. In order for us to fix this problem and make a change, we as a new generation need to continue to step up and fight for what we believe in. We need the people who have the leadership skills like Martin Luther King Jr., the people who have the braveness like the Freedom Riders and Rosa Parks, and the people who have the determination like the Little Rock Nine Group. If we as a generation can step up, I definitely believe we can make a change.”
We sat down for a quick Q&A with William:
Briefly, can you summarize your experience in Professor Dao’s Intro to Ethnic Studies Course?
Intro to Ethnic Studies has definitely been my favorite class so far at Saint Mary’s. I love how we were able to discuss and learn about worldwide issues that our planet has faced in it’s past and in the present day. I also enjoyed not just learning more about my culture, but the cultures of many other ethnic groups. I feel like Professor Dao did a great job helping everyone in the class feel comfortable in sharing their beliefs and ideas without having to worry about being judged for it. If you want to be a part of a class where you can discuss your opinions on societal issues and learn what makes all of our cultures special in its own way, I definitely recommend taking an Ethic Studies course with Professor Dao.
What inspired you to create your short film? Why did you choose the Civil Rights Movement for your project?
So, I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky and didn’t move to California until my junior year of high school. The city of Louisville is where some of my family lives, it’s where some of my closest friends are, and it’s where some of my most memorable childhood moments took place. So when the tragic death of Breonna Taylor occured in Louisville, it really had a big impact on me. I never thought I’d wake up to see the city that I called “home” being at the center of such a disgusting and tragic event. However, while I was upset, I was also happy to see so many people from around the world protesting and fighting for Breonna Taylor. Even though thousands of people were victims of attacks from police officers, whether that be from rubber bullets, tear gas, or hand-to-hand combat, we as a country didn’t stop fighting. This caused me to relate these protests and events to those during the Civil Rights Movement. There are countless examples during the Civil Rights Movement of people being assaulted and punished for simply protesting for what they believed was right, however, they never gave up. So when Professor Dao gave us our prompt for our final project, I instantly knew that I wanted to talk about the history of how the Civil Rights Movement came to be and how those special people paved the way for our generation. I believed that showing visual representations of the Civil Rights Movement, like videos and pictures, would be the best way for me to get my point across, thus causing me to make the video.
While researching, were there any historical moments that stuck with you?
I think the story of the Little Rock Nine group really stuck with me. I tried putting myself in their shoes and imagined how excited they may have been to join a whole new school and environment. However, that excitement would completely change when they were threatened, attacked, mistreated by other students and parents. Can you imagine having other teenagers and fellow students your age yelling racial slurs at you on a daily basis? Can you imagine getting physically assaulted by other students and not being able to do anything about it? Can you imagine being escorted to and from class by federal troops? I found it inspiring that these nine high schoolers had the courage and the strength to endure these attacks, while still wanting to attend school. I think they’re a great example of how teenagers can make just as big of an impact in our society than anyone and how you’re never too young to step up and advocate for what you believe is right.
What was the most challenging aspect of this project?
I would say that the most challenging part of the project was just trying to figure out which events to talk about. There were countless events and people that I wanted to bring up that didn’t make the video like Bloody Sunday, The Greensboro Four, and Ruby Bridges to just name a few. I feel this just shows how many people took part in this movement and how there are many events that sometimes get looked over when we talk about the Civil Rights Movement.
What advice do you have for anyone in the SMC community wanting to be a part of making a change for social justice?
I would say my biggest advice to anyone who wants to advocate and strive to make a change for social justice would be to not be afraid to have your voice heard. I know people who have wanted to speak up about social injustice in our country, but were too afraid about what their parents may think or what their friends may say. I feel like if Civil Rights activists thought the same way and were too afraid to lead by example and fight for their beliefs, we as a nation wouldn’t be where we are today. Some of the friends you have now, you possibly would’ve never met due to segregated schools still probably being a thing. You probably wouldn’t be able to eat at your favorite restaurant due to buildings only being open to certain races. Many of you probably would’ve never seen my video if it wasn’t for these Civil Rights activists stepping up. What made people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. such amazing leaders was that they didn’t care what other people thought of them. They knew that a majority of our country didn’t like them and didn’t support many of the things they were fighting for at the time. However, they kept protesting anyway because they believed what they were doing would one day make a change, no matter what the critics may have said. If there's anyone out there who’s questioning whether or not to advocate for something positive in our country, just go out and do it. Don’t worry about what other people may say or how they may look at you because at the end of the day, you could be the reason why our world makes a change.