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Barber of Birmingham, The

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Grade Level: JrH-Adult
Producer: Video Project
Closed Captioned: Yes
Running Time: 26 mins
Country of Origin: United States
Study Guide: No

Copyright Date: 2011
Available in French: No

Academy Award-nominated The Barber of Birmingham movingly portrays the unsung "foot soldiers" of the civil rights movement through the personal story of 85-year-old barber James Armstrong, who carried the American flag in the epic 1965 "Bloody Sunday" Selma voting rights march, and spearheaded efforts to integrate public schools in Alabama.

Armstrong was one of thousands of average Americans who risked jail and their lives in the fight for racial equality and the right to vote. "The worst thing a man can do is nothing," says Armstrong in the film.

An Army veteran, he was the proprietor of Armstrong's Barbershop, a political and cultural hub in Birmingham, Alabama, for more than 50 years. Every inch of wall space in his shop was covered with inspirational clippings and photographs of his heroes, including Martin Luther King, Jr., who had his hair cut by Armstrong.

In addition to participating in the Selma march and being jailed in other protests, Armstrong filed a ground-breaking lawsuit in 1957 that challenged school segregation and led to his two sons enrolling as the first black students at previously all-white Graymont Elementary in 1963. One of his sons reflects back on what it was like as a child during those difficult days.

Notably in the film, Armstrong celebrates an event he never believed he'd see in his lifetime -- the election and inauguration of the first African-American president. "This is what I went to jail and marched for," he says.

The Barber of Birmingham vividly illustrates the history and impact of the voting and civil rights movement through James Armstrong’s journey, supplemented by commentary from prominent civil rights veterans as well as historical footage from the 1965 Selma march, Armstrong's campaign for school integration, and Dr. King's famous "I've been to the mountain top" speech.

• Amelia Boynton Robinson, Voting rights activist credited with initiating the Selma march
• Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette, co-founder of SNCC and an early leader in Selma for voting rights
• Rev. C.T. Vivian, ally and close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“A stirring tribute to the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement, black Southern activists like the film’s focal character, James Armstrong.” - New York Times

Broadcast on PBS’ POV Series

Academy Award Nominee, Best Documentary Short
Winner, Short Documentary, Ashland Independent Film Festival
Winner, Audience Choice Award, Hollywood Shorts Film Festival
Winner, Best Documentary, Short Woods Hole Film Festival
Official Selection:
Sundance Film Festival
AFI/Discovery Silver Docs Festival
Mountain Film in Telluride
True/False Film Fest
15th Annual DocuWeeks



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