Speed Cinema hosts documentary, discussion about civil rights icon Anne Braden

Anne Braden (left) interviews fellow civil rights icon Rosa Parks at the Braden home in Louisville. | Courtesy of Speed Art Museum

Speed Cinema will presentAnne Braden: Southern Patriot,” a first-person documentary about the civil rights icon from Louisville, on Sunday, March 24. The viewing will be followed by a post-screening discussion with the film’s co-director, Mimi Pickering, and Dr. Cate Fosl, director of the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research at the University of Louisville.

Speed Cinema is a 142-seat, state-of-the-art theater located within the Speed Art Museum. This weekend’s presentation is part of the theater’s “Appalshop at 50” series, a yearlong celebration of the Whitesburg, Ky.-based nonprofit production company. Speed Cinema will showcase an Appalshop project on one Sunday of each month throughout 2019.

Admission is free at the museum on Sundays thanks to a $1 million gift from Brown-Forman.

Dean Otto | Courtesy of Speed Art Museum

Dean Otto, the Speed’s curator of film, tells Insider he wanted to program the Appalshop films at a time that would expose the most people to the organization’s work.

“Ever since I came to Kentucky three years ago, I’ve been interested in doing something with Appalshop, because the company produces stories that challenge the stereotypes about the diversity and culture of this region,” he says. “I’ve been excited about digging into the archives and being able to highlight important people like Anne Braden.”

Appalshop was founded in 1969 as the Appalachian Film Workshop, a project of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, which was a campaign to end deprivation in America. The workshop evolved into a nonprofit in 1974 and has since expanded beyond film into theater, music and spoken-word recordings and books.

Appalshop also operates WMMT-FM, a radio station that serves much of central Appalachia, including portions of eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia and parts of West Virginia.

“Anne Braden: Southern Patriot” is a 2012 Appalshop film by Pickering and Anne Lewis that explores Braden’s lifelong struggle against racism and political repression. In his famous 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. praised Braden as a white southerner whose rejection of her segregationist upbringing was “eloquent and prophetic.”

Braden was born Anne Gambrell McCarty in Louisville in 1924 but was raised in Anniston, Ala. She returned to her hometown to work at the Louisville Times and married a co-worker, Carl Braden, in 1948. The couple found themselves ostracized by most of the community in the 1950s because of their Socialist beliefs and efforts to make Louisville a more inclusive city.

Anne Braden inspired three generations of social justices activists. | Courtesy of Speed Cinema

The Bradens gained national fame in 1954 when they tried to desegregate a Shively neighborhood by purchasing a home for an African-American friend named Andrew Wade.

After the neighbors learned there was a black family living in the community, Wade’s family had their windows shot out and their home firebombed.

Instead of looking for the people who destroyed the Wade home, authorities put Carl and Anne Braden on trial for sedition, insurrection against the established order. The charges against Anne were dropped, but Carl served eight months before a U.S. Supreme Court decision invalidated state sedition laws.

Anne Braden related the story in her 1958 book “The Wall Between,” a runner-up for the National Book Award that year. After her husband died in 1975, Braden continued her social justice activities, most notably alongside the late Rev. Louis Coleman of the Justice Resource Center and close friend Mattie Jones.

Braden died on March 6, 2006, and the following year UofL opened the Braden Institute, which advocates for social justice globally but concentrates mainly on the southern United States and the Louisville area.

Fosl, the institute’s director, is the author of the biography “Subversive Southerner: Anne Braden and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Cold War South.” Fosl also served as an advisor for “Southern Patriot.”

Fosl said the event at the Speed on Sunday is important not only because it honors Anne Braden, but because it could be a catalyst to inspire a community-wide discussion on why housing segregation and white supremacy are problems that still plague the nation.

“One person’s life can be a window into larger issues that merit greater attention,” she explains. “I speak to a lot of people under 50 who don’t know anything about Anne or her work. In many cases, they are surprised to learn housing segregation was so defended that someone would blow up a house. That is why it’s important to remember Anne’s career.”

The free screening of “Anne Braden: Southern Patriot” on Sunday, March 24, starts at 12:30 p.m. Speed Cinema’s “Appalshop at 50” series will continue Sunday, April 21, with “In the Good Old-Fashioned Way,” a film about the Old Regular Baptist Church, one of the oldest denominations in the Appalachian Mountains.