They Persisted

The U. S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in the Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka case declared school segregation unconstitutional. But that didn’t guarantee compliance. In her film <i>The Lincoln School: A Battle for School Integration in Ohio,</i> documentary filmmaker Andrea Torrice explores the untold story of the African-American mothers who led the charge for educational equality in Hillsboro, Ohio.

Photograph by Caroline Savage

What was the Lincoln School? It was a pretty typical black school. They didn’t have adequate facilities; they had to share books; and the teachers may have been well intentioned, but their resources were not as good as [those] at the town’s white school. Five mothers decided they wanted their children to get a better education. So they petitioned the Hillsboro Board of Education. The board hemmed and hawed. They brought a lawsuit against the board for not complying and marched every day with their children for two years.

What drew you to the story? These women, most of whom were domestic workers, were very courageous. The incredible passion and boldness the mothers had to get their children the best education possible at that time was amazing to me.

What else do you consider when taking on a project? Who the audience is and why are we telling the story now. This story shows how federal policy and grassroots activism working together can make positive change. Part of my job as a documentary filmmaker is to find stories that are new, or need to be re-told in a different way because it’s a different period of time. That was the thing that appealed to me about the Hillsboro story. I hadn’t really heard about it.

Were there technical challenges? There were very few photographs of the event and very little source material. I had to think of creative ways to make the story come alive. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out ways to make really blurry photos look good. I have Ken Burns to thank for that. I learned a lot just watching his films and taking his workshop. He’s a master at cleaning up old photographs. I did some things technically to enrich the pictures so they were a little cleaner. But I let the women speak for themselves. The people who witnessed these events tell the story.

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