Utah's Freedom Riders

Fifty years ago, the nation's newspapers were filled with headlines about the civil rights conflict igniting the South. The fever would spread, jumping state lines, race, color and creed. Soon, freedom riders were found in every state of the nation - including Utah.

"Discrimination knows no boundaries," says Nancy Green, KUED producer of Utah's Freedom Riders. "It didn't just happen in the South, it happened here. Throughout the heart of the 20th century, Utahns of all colors carried out the fight for civil rights, whether they were travelling to the South, or taking up the cause at home. They were united by a common vision of inclusion for all."

Produced in conjunction with American Experience: Freedom Riders, Utah's Freedom Riders highlights the contributions many Utahns have made toward creating a more just and equitable society.

Throughout the heart of the 20th Century, Utahns of all colors carried out the fight for civil rights.

The documentary tells the stories of Utahns involved in the Civil Rights movement. Stephen Holbrook was a student at the University of Utah who traveled south for the Voter Registration Drive during the Freedom Summer of '64. "I took an African American woman down to vote in the Hines County Courthouse and I went around and started taking pictures of the 'Whites Only' signs." He was arrested for "breach of the peace" and kept in a "hot box" - a cell with the heat turned up - for two or three days. When he returned to Utah, he worked with the NAACP to help organize the fight for equality in Utah.

Before he became pastor of the Cavalry Baptist Church, Rev. France Davis marched in the Selma to Montgomery Protest as a follower of Martin Luther King, Jr. Davis and others marched under the watch of the Alabama National guard who wore Confederate flags on their shoulders, but also under the watch of Ku Klux Klan and their bayoneted guns. When Davis moved to Utah in 1972, he discovered a whole new layer of discrimination, more subtle but just as invasive.

"The University had helped me to secure an apartment," Davis recalls. "I had paid a deposit, had a telephone installed, and when I showed up to move in, the landlord said, 'Absolutely not.' I went about the community eating at various restaurants, being stared at and called names and all kinds of other negative things."

In 1949, Mary Green was eight years old when she picketed a local movie theater because Blacks and Mexicans had to sit in the balcony. The film was Home of the Brave. "I just remember my mother saying, 'Why are they showing that movie, saying we're the land of the brave and the home of the free? And we're not.' ...it just gave me a funny feeling about being an American, and there were so many things I couldn't do. So, eight years old. On the picket line. Because in my household, you made some kind of statement."

Darius Gray, an African American member of the LDS Church, tells about the fear that swept through the country and Utah at that time, sparked by rumors that Black Panthers were coming to the state. "It was that fear, that expectation that Blacks were going to come into the valley, pillage the temple, rape the women and it was a fear that was so real," he recalls. He talks about how LDS Church policies affected public attitudes. "Well, it played much the same role as the white churches played in the South. It didn't play. It didn't want to be involved," he says.

Archie Archuletta tells of walking into a bar with his father, where a sign was posted saying, "No Mexicans or dogs allowed." He recalls the struggles of growing up Hispanic in the West. He also talks about how the civil rights movement empowered many people and led to the Chicano movement. At 80 years of age, Archuletta is still on the frontline at rallies, speaking out for equality. He's excited by the number of young people still fighting to find their voice. The legacy of the civil rights movement lives on. "I think Jefferson said it well, 'Freedom requires vigilance,' but beyond that it requires vigilance and action," he says.

26 minutes
Closed Caption: 
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