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A deserved Valentine to The Highlander Research and Education Center, the documentary You Got to Move: Stories Of Change In The South covers roughly forty years of social change in the Southeast, as told by several of its activist alumni. Organized in 1932 to train union organizers in the depths of the Great Depression, Highlander has survived to educate and inspire generations of citizens occupied in a variety of social issues.
Directors Lucy Massie Phenix and Veronica Selver narrowed their focus to five or six interview subjects, whose amateur status didn't stop them from taking on some powerful adversaries. The guiding light for the Center is Myles Horton, who (at the time of filming) is shown gardening as he explains in homespun, plain-speaking terms how people are motivated and how they can be politically effective. A later reference to Horton, who passed away in 1990, is that he's still inspiring people.
The CIO years aren't really covered, as the first interviewee Bernice Robertson talks about her experience immediately after WW2, when she returned to Appalachia to teach adult blacks to read. When simply excluding blacks from the polls became illegal, local governments instituted literacy rules and refused ballots to black voters who could not read a difficult passage from the Constitution. The Highlander Center charged Bernice with the idea that if the Jim Crow laws were to change, she would have to become a leader.
Bernice Johnson Reagon talks about her experience in the Civil Rights Movement in Albany, Georgia, and the confidence that The Movement gave her. We see a burly sheriff telling picketing schoolgirls that only two can picket per block (and presumably be more easily divided and intimidated that way). The black teens ignore him.
The Center gave what were called Citizenship Education Classes, teaching activists what their rights were and what the law could demand of them and what it could not. William Saunders held his own job but also helped organize a hospital strike for the rights of black nurses, who were heavily discriminated against. A news clip shows a hospital administrator, who can only be described as an obstructionist clod, insisting that the issue has nothing to do with race. We then see policemen beating up black nurses and choking them with nightsticks. 100 days later, the strike was successful.
The show examines much more than the Civil Rights era. Before proceeding to later subjects, it takes up a 1961 attempt to close down Highlander by a prosecutor who claimed that the school encouraged improper behavior between the races. In audio tapes from the courtroom -- that make fictional presentations of racists seem tame -- one photo of mixed-race dance couple leads to charges that couples were sneaking off into the woods and that the Center is a whorehouse. That's in addition to the unfounded charge that the Center a communist training school.
The latter sections of the docu allow various ordinary citizens to relate how they stood up to government collusion with ecological criminals in their rural areas. Rebecca Simpson explains the long process by which she used the training at the center to combat a strip-mining company that performed none of the law-mandated clean-up or restoration to the mountain areas they destroyed. Similarly, housewife Gail Story opposed a crooked landfill dump operator, who earned big profits taking chemicals and other substances (even some that were radioactive) from companies unwilling to pay to have them properly disposed of. We see home movies taken by an irate landowner showing chemical trucks making their way up to the top of a valley. Ignored by State Health officials, the activist found that the only way to bring a halt to the dumping and publicize the crime was for a large group of protesters to physically block the road.
Phenix and Selver's lively interviews introduce us to what can only be described as some fairly ordinary citizens empowered by their willingness to stand up for their beliefs. The filmmakers appear to have been given full access to the Highlander Center's archives, as all the episodes are illustrated with good photographs and film from various sources. The movie would make a good grass-roots counter-programming with the essential union organizing docu Harlan County, U.S.A. In the wrap up, Bernice Johnson Reagon says, "You got to offer your life for what you believe. You are a leader. I got a dream too."
Milestone / Oscilloscope's DVD of You Got to Move: Stories Of Change In The South is an adequate encoding of this 1985 video produced to celebrate the Highlander Research and Education Center, and also to promote the vital idea that citizens must organize themselves to assert their rights against more powerful, and sometimes abusive, forces in society. The video frequently exhibits a slight combing effect on image details that move, which indicates that the source may have had conversion problems from another video format (that's an informed guess from experience). The flaw is not a serious detriment to one's viewing, as the color is good and the audio very good.
The movie is backed by a variety of folk and local music from the Southern areas where the various activist actions took place. Many of the songs are organizing songs, including the title tune by Mississippi Fred McDowell. The tune was once covered by The Rolling Stones.
Milestone is more than generous with extras. A lengthy segment with E.D. Nixon, the organizer of the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott, made the show too long and had to be removed, but it's here intact and edited. A video about a Highlander Center anniversary party is included, along with three new video featurettes. In one, activist Bill Saunders catches us up with the story of the hospital strike and what came afterward. Another short piece uses clips and inter-titles to tell us what happened to the other on-screen contributors to the film. Director Lucy Massie Phenix offers a video essay about the reactionary social policies of the Reagan years that motivated her to make You Got to Move.
Finally, a 1981 episode of the Bill Moyers Journal is excerpted to show Moyers interviewing the sage of the Highlander Center, Myles Horton. The You Got to Move DVD has a lot to offer those wishing to spread the Highlander Center's positive philosophy.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
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T'was Ever Thus.