Documentary produced in the College of Education airs the stories of those who lived under segregation

When Gary Homana invited Evelyn Chatmon to share her story of growing up and living through legal segregation in Baltimore with his class, the TU professor in the College of Education got way more than a guest speaker. Her lecture to students in Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on America’s Urban Education became the impetus for the film documentary, Voices of Baltimore: Life under Segregation.

Voices of Baltimore preserves the rich oral histories of a quickly diminishing population of African-Americans who lived through the era of legal segregation—Jim Crow laws. It documents the lives of those who attended segregated schools or experienced desegregation before and after the historic 1954 Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

“There was a striking sense of power in Evelyn’s story which touched my soul,” says Homana. “It was transformational—a realization that this and other stories like it needed to be preserved—for their value, courage, commitment and dedication—not only for the individual but for the community. Perhaps more important, it was a recognition of those who came before and their lived struggles for rights as human beings.”

Homana, along with Morna McDermott McNulty, TU professor of education, and Franklin CampbellJones, professor emeritus, produced and directed the film that asks the question, “Where have we been, and where are we going?”

“We intend to use Voices of Baltimore to build partnerships across our diverse community working with schools and organizations.”

—Gary Homana, executive producer and professor of education

The most empowering takeaway from working on the project, according to McDermott McNulty, was “being part of a powerful narrative that hopefully will affect people to re-examine what they have been taught and subsequently empower them to take part in fighting institutional opposition in the present and future.”

These stories—of individuals who never expected their lives to become a testament of resilience and an enduring legacy against oppression—speak volumes about how our nation and its people can become a more tolerant and equitable society.

“I need to stand up for what is right,” Chatmon says in the film.

According to Homana, Chatmon, former assistant school superintendent in Baltimore County, was central in identifying others to include in the film. McDermott McNulty knew Walter Gill, an adjunct professor in the Department of Early Childhood Education, who serves on the Citizens Review Board in Baltimore City.

Through recommendations of Chatmon and Gill, the other participants were identified: Chief Judge Robert Bell of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals; Louis Diggs, an author who served in the all-Black Maryland National Guard during the Korean War; Elizabeth Frances Nichols Gill, who was a supervisor at AT&T; Treopia Green Washington, director of special initiatives in the College of Education at Bowie State University; and Patricia Welch, dean of education at Morgan State University.

After initial conversations, four themes emerged, reflecting remarkable consistency across the conversations.

The producers/directors chose film as the research vehicle because “I wanted to be part of a project that uses nontraditional forms of inquiry,” McDermott McNulty says.

“Using film as an alternative medium to traditional research to capture these stories was essential in the process,” adds Homana.

The TU trio collaborated to preserve the firsthand accounts of those who transcended racial barriers in Baltimore. Pictured from left to right are Franklin CampbellJones, co-producer/director; Morna McDermott McNulty, co-producer/director; and Gary A. Homana, executive producer/director

Homana, McDermott McNulty and CampbellJones are developing an accompanying curriculum guidebook for use with the film that could be used in a core course offered by TU’s College of Education.

“The purpose of the work is to serve as a way for students to critically analyze the continuing struggles around issues of equity, power, privilege, segregation and social justice faced in schools and neighborhoods across the country,” Homana adds.

Voices of Baltimore premiered as part of TU’s Black History Month on Feb. 16 to a packed house in Stephens Hall Theatre.

TU President Kim Schatzel and COE Dean Laurie Mullen spoke. A panel discussion featured six of the seven people profiled in the film—Diggs, Elizabeth Gill, Walter Gill, Washington and Welch. (Bell was absent due to illness.)

In addition to the TU screening, the film was shown at Bowie State University as part of Black History Month and organized by Green Washington. It was presented at the National Council of Teachers of English Assembly for Research conference held at TU in March; the 14th International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry conference (May 2018 in Urbana, Illinois); and the National Council for the Social Studies conference (November 2018 in Chicago).

Homana has been approached by colleagues at Brandeis University, Tufts and the University of Maryland College Park, as well.

“We intend to use Voices of Baltimore to build partnerships across our diverse community working with schools and organizations,” Homana says. “These partnerships will enable increased use of the work and promote ongoing thoughtful discussions and critical analysis of the various social, cultural, and political forces surrounding segregation and integration—and how they exist in schools and society today.”

Sedonia Martin is a senior communications manager in marketing and communications.