Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Women of Highlander Live On...

On Sunday, 19th the Russell Library hosted, “The Untold Story of Women’s Leadership at Highlander Research and Education Center: 75 Years of Fighting for Freedom,” at the Demosthenian Hall on North Campus. In her presentation, guest speaker Colleen McDermott, a doctoral candidate in the program of Adult Education at UGA, spoke about the major contributions of the female staff members at this institution – how they shaped its direction, success, and ultimately its endurance. Dr. Tom Valentine provided brief but glowing introductions to the speaker, his longtime student.

During the last several years McDermott has conducted extensive interviews with current and former staff members at the Highlander Center for Research and Education, as well as conducted research in the institution’s archives. Her work has allowed for the identification of the vital leadership roles played by women at this important center for civil and human rights advancement. This topic – a labor of love for McDermott -- is both the focus of her dissertation and the centerpiece of a forthcoming book on which she is currently working.

The speaker used a short video describing Highlander’s history as a visual aid, pausing at various points to identify important women on the screen and to expound on the small and large ways that each contributed to the school’s development. They were fundraisers, teachers, and strike organizers. They introduced music and theatrical performance to the school’s regular activities. More than anything they succeeded in bringing a genuine hospitality to this place, contributing to an atmosphere of trust and comfort in tumultuous times. In discussing Highlander’s citizenship school initiative, an effort to promote literacy and therefore voter viability in the South Carolina Sea Islands, McDermott choked up for a moment when recalling the incredible achievements of this female-led education project. She moved from past to present seamlessly, ending with a few words about the current Director of Highlander, Pam McMichael, and the move towards a less hierarchical leadership model at the Center. Following the presentation, McDermott fielded questions from the audience and journeyed to the Russell Library for glimpse at the new exhibit.

The film screened during this presentation is currently on view at the Russell Library, as part of the exhibition Weaving the Threads of Justice: Highlander Center, 1932-2007 . The exhibit is free and open to the public Monday-Friday, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm, through November 30, 2008.

As we near the end of October, we have ONLY two more events in the Weaving program series: “The South and Appalachia – Linking to the World: The Current Concerns and Initiatives of the Highlander Research and Education Center(Sunday, October 26th 3-5 p.m., Athens-Clarke County Public Library) and “Reflections on Songs, Actions, & Social Justice: Film Lecture and Music from Guy and Candie Carwan” (Sunday, November 16th, 2-5 p.m., Russell Library). Be sure to catch these wonderful programs while you still can!

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