January 18, 2022

Chester Library Hosts PBS Film About Civil Rights Activist, Town Resident, Jan. 29

Judge Constance Baker Motley. Photo courtesy Motley Family.

Judge Constance Baker Motley. Photo courtesy Motley Family.

To commemorate Black History month and the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, Chester Public Library will host the PBS film, Justice is a Black Woman, about the life and work of Judge Constance Baker Motley, a key Civil Rights leader who was a Chester resident for many years. The film, followed by a discussion led by local historian Marta Daniels, will take place on Thursday, Jan. 29, at 7 p.m., in the Community Room at Chester Town Hall on Rte. 154.

Judge Motley was at the center of America’s Civil Rights firestorm for more than 40 years, first as a brilliant lawyer and strategist with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund under Thurgood Marshall, and later as a federal judge in U.S. District Court. Working closely with Dr. King as one of the movement’s chief litigators between 1940 and 1966, Motley played pivotal roles that helped desegregate southern schools, buses, and lunch counters. As an African American woman, she broke countless barriers and set many records in American history.

She was the original author in the landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education, in which the High Court declared unconstitutional state laws establishing separate public schools for black and whites, and in 1962 she argued the case in the Supreme Court that resulted in the admission of James Meredith to the all-white University of Mississippi.

AP file photo: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. chats with his wife, Coretta, left, and civil rights champion Constance Baker Motley before the start of a Southern Christian Leadership Conference banquet in Aug. 9, 1965, in Birmingham, Ala.

AP file photo: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. chats with his wife, Coretta, left, and civil rights champion Constance Baker Motley before the start of a Southern Christian Leadership Conference banquet in Aug. 9, 1965, in Birmingham, Ala.

As Dr. King battled in the streets, Attorney Motley fought in the courts. A personal friend of the Kings, she won legal cases that ended segregation in Memphis restaurants and at whites-only lunch counters in Birmingham, Ala. She spent time in Mississippi under armed guard with Medgar Evers, the famous civil rights leader later murdered by the KKK, and she imperiled her own life by being in the courts of the Deep South at a time and place where racial tensions were burning white-hot.

In addition to her pioneering Civil Rights efforts, she was the first black woman to be appointed a federal judge (in 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson) and she received the Medal of Honor from President Clinton in 2001.

The award-winning film Justice is a Black Woman, produced by Quinnipiac University’s Dr. Gary Ford and Michael Calia, first aired on PBS in 2012. Narrated by Juan Williams, it includes President Bill Clinton, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Attorney Vernon Jordan, members of the “Little Rock Nine,” and Dr. Maya Angelou. Anyone interested in understanding the Civil Rights Movement will want to see this film and join the discussion that follows. Participants are also encouraged to watch the new film, Selma, now in area movie theaters to get a better understanding of the richness of Civil Rights history.

Chester resident Marta Daniels, part of the Chester Library’s new Human Book program, will lead the discussion. A longtime activist, she has devoted herself to expanding and improving civic engagement in public policy issues related to peace and justice. She participated in Civil Rights marches and voter registration drives in the ‘60s and helped organize the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, conceived by Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and carried out in the wake of King’s assassination. The campaign organized in support of economic and human rights for poor Americans, and set up a 3000-person tent city (Resurrection City) on the Washington Mall, where participants stayed for six weeks.

The library program on Jan. 29 is free and open to the public. No registration is needed. More information is available at Chester Library, 860-526-0018.