MAITLAND – This fall, the focus of the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center will be on a special topic very much in the news today: civil rights.
On the heels of an explosive summer in Ferguson, Missouri, where riots and protests followed the death of Michael Brown – an unarmed 18-year-old who was shot and killed by a police officer – the Holocaust Center in Maitland will host special exhibits and programs that explore the state of civil rights today.
As the center notes, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. The Holocaust Center will devote the fall to a Civil Rights Act Commemoration that explores the state of race relations today.
“In recognition of the 50-year anniversary, the Holocaust Center has brought institutions and individuals throughout Central Florida together to examine the impact of the Civil Rights Act, what issues remain to be addressed and how we can continue challenging bigotry and prejudice in all its forms,” the Holocaust Center noted in a news release.
Why focus on civil rights issues through a center that preserves the history and documentation of the Holocaust during World War II?
As the center notes, around the same time that Adolph Hitler was instituting the Nuremberg Laws in 1935 — anti-Semitic laws by the Nazi Party, directed at Jews and banning “non-Aryans” and other political opponents of the Nazis from civil service – the states in the American South were strongly regulating racial segregation though Jim Crow Laws. The Nuremberg Laws directed at German Jews were considered by many to be a form of “scientific racism” that defined the Nazi ideology.
“The parallels between Jim Crow-era laws and Hitler’s Nuremberg Laws are striking,” the center notes. “Was this a coincidence, or did our nation’s race-based laws have an impact on Germany’s decision to institute similar laws? Civil rights activism in the 1960s had an impact on changing and removing discriminatory laws. Did German citizens have the same opportunities?”
These issues will be addressed and reflected on during a Civil Rights Commemoration on Thursday, Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. at the Holocaust Center, an event that is free and open to the public.
Over the following weekend, the Holocaust Center will introduce a new exhibit, “Hateful Things,” which is on loan from the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University, and uses historic labels, advertisements, postcards and other printed materials from the Jim Crow era, that demonstrate the ways in which governments, businesses and an entire society used images to reinforce the concept of racial superiority.
As the Holocaust Center points out, these images “show the appalling lack of sensitivity that was acceptable in American culture until recent memory. As we view the derogatory images and stereotypes, we find a deeper understanding in the power of propaganda to marginalize and dehumanize others.”
The exhibit will be unveiled on Sunday, Sept. 14 at 2 p.m., and will continue through Dec. 16. Marvin Newman, a retired Rollins College professor, will attend to share his personal experiences dealing with prejudice and bigotry, and the lessons that can be learned from the past.
This exhibit is sponsored by the PNC Bank Foundation and funded in part by the Orange County government – Arts and Cultural Affairs, United Arts of Central Florida, Florida Humanities Council, Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, and Solomon F. Schick & Associates.
The Holocaust Center is also joining with the Enzian Theater in Maitland for a showing of a documentary that serves to follow up on one made during the Civil Rights era in 1965 by NBC filmmaker Frank DeFelitta, which looked at Mississippi as a self-portrait of racism in the American South.
The original film included an interview with Booker Wright, an African-American waiter who worked in a restaurant that only served whites. In the original 1965 documentary, Wright talked openly and candidly about the racism he endured – while the Holocaust Center noted that “the broadcast of his remarks had catastrophic consequences for him and his family.”
The new documentary, “Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story,” was directed by the son of Frank De Felitta and co-produced by one of Booker Wright’s grandchildren, and revisits the past through interviews with those who lived in the community who discuss Wright’s life after the airing of the original documentary.
The screening will be on Sunday, Sept. 7 at noon at the Enzian Theater, 1300 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland. Tickets are $10 each.
This screening is being presented by the Enzian Theater in partnership with the Holocaust Center and the Global Peace Film Festival.
Finally, on Sunday, Oct. 12, the book “A Pocketful of Posies” by W.C. Sorice will be discussed at the center’s next book club meeting, at 2 p.m.
The book is a fictional account connecting historic events, rock-n-roll superstars, the Ku Klux Klan and Civil Rights activism against the backdrop of the 1950s and 1960s. The author will lead the discussion.
The Holocaust Memorial Center is open Mondays through Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission to the Holocaust Center and films, exhibits and lectures is free and open to the community.
The Holocaust Center is at 851 N. Maitland Ave. Call 407-628-0555 for details.
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