Historian to Discuss Civil Rights Period

Historian to Discuss Civil Rights Period


Mary Johnson, a historian and well-known author who specializes in civil rights issues, will bring the story of the Freedom Riders to SUNY Cortland on Wednesday, Sept. 28.

The event, at 4 p.m. in Sperry Center, Room 105, is free and open to the public.

Johnson’s talk will precede a screening of Freedom Riders, the 2011 PBS documentary that tells the stories of central players in the Civil Rights Movement during a time when more than 400 black and white Americans were beaten or imprisoned for simply riding various forms of transportation together through the Deep South.

A second screening, without a preceding talk, will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, in Sperry Center, Room 105.

Johnson has worked for 29 years with Facing History and Ourselves, a program that trains educators to increase compassion and decrease bigotry by learning from history’s mistakes. A senior historian with the group, she has given talks on a variety of topics, mostly related to the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement.

Her publications have dealt with Franco-American women, women of the French Revolution and the Nuremberg Trials. She recently contributed to the resource book Crimes Against Humanity and Civilization: The Genocide of the Armenians and co-edited a family guide to Samuel Bak’s recent exhibition “Icons of Loss,” which captured memories of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe.

Johnson began her career as a volunteer Peace Corps teacher in Nigeria and eventually started her own school there. Before she joined Facing History and Ourselves, she spent two years as a fellow at the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, where she developed course material dealing with women’s studies and multicultural issues.

The Freedom Riders documentary that follows her talk captures the Civil Rights Movement from May through November in 1961. It dissects the six-month period when Supreme Court orders to desegregate all interstate travel facilities were ignored by local police agencies and more than 300 people were jailed for riding. The film features interviews with the riders, state and government officials and journalists who witnessed the rides firsthand during the demonstration.

The event’s sponsors include Auxiliary Services Corporation, SUNY Cortland’s Childhood/Early Childhood Education Department and the College’s Education Club.

For more information, contact Lin Lin, an associate professor of childhood/early childhood education, at (607) 753-4234.