By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
The DuSable Museum of African American History will host a screening and discussion of the documentary “’63 Boycott,” Tuesday, Oct. 22, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the boycott against Chicago Public Schools (CPS) overcrowding.
Gordon Quinn, director of the project, is still searching for past CPS students who participated in the boycott to interview for the completion of his project.
On Oct. 22, 1963, about 250,000 CPS students boycotted school to protest the segregationist policies of CPS Superintendent Benjamin Willis, who placed trailers on school playgrounds and parking lots as a permanent solution to overcrowding in Black schools. The documentary explores the legacy of racism and inequality in CPS during that time period and draws some parallels to this year’s CPS school closings, which were predominantly in African American communities. Quinn chronicles the demonstration using the original 16mm footage of the 1963 boycott and past and present-day interviews with students and parents. He continues to search for student protesters who were shown in the demonstration footage to get their reflections on the event and find out where they are today.
A sneak peek at the documentary, which is a work-in-progress, will be shown during the DuSable event “Lessons from the 1963 Boycott: The Struggle for Quality Education in Chicago Then and Now,” from 6 p.m. to 8p.m. at the museum, 740 E. 56th Pl. After the screening there will be a panel discussion with activists from then and now, including Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who led teachers in a strike at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year.
Quinn, artistic director and founding member of Chicago-based nonprofit Kartemquin Films, started work on this documentary as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Quinn said parts of the work was featured in a Canadian film but he was surprised that other historical institutions such as the “Eyes on the Prize” series producers did not include it in their civil rights documentaries.
“This was a very important part of history,” Quinn said. “It’s huge, several hundred kids walking out of school. It wasn’t until two years later that Willis was voted out of his position but during that time the community realized that they could play a role and be involved in change.”
Quinn put “’63 Boycott” aside and went on to make documentaries including “Hoop Dreams” and “The Interrupters,” but felt compelled by the upcoming 50th anniversary of the boycott and this year’s unprecedented number of school closings to revisit and move forward with his work on the project.
Kartemquin Films is asking that people visit its interactive website, 63boycott.com, to identify and tag themselves or others they may know in more than 500 stills pulled from the film, as well as upload their own images and stories.
Quinn said that even when the 30-minute film is complete he wants the website to live on.
“We want to connect with those who were teens during the boycott and find ways to get them in schools to tell people about their experiences,” Quinn said.
Quinn said he also wants to create study guides related to the film and hopes that PBS and other national broadcasting stations will begin to run the documentary.
To register for the screening and discussion at DuSable, visit 63boycott.eventbrite.com. For more information about the film, visit 63boycott.com or call 773-472-3797.