Research: the Freedom Rides to Jackson, Mississippi, 1961

I come from a family of nerdy radicals. Seriously. We all may look cool (or at least quirky, let's go with that), but deep down inside we're really a bunch of geeks that would be perfectly happy watching documentaries all day. For example, by the time I was in High School, I had watched the entirety of Ken Burns Civil War documentary with my Dad. Twice. When I went home for the holidays this year, we all sat together as a family to watch a documentary about Alice Paul and the suffragette movement. So, not only do I enjoy research, it's in my blood.

An Appeal to the Woman of the House is about a group of Freedom Riders in 1961. In spite of my history nerd upbringing, I was surprised how little I knew about the Freedom Riders. I mean, considering the state of American education, I shouldn't be surprised. However, my Dad and Step-mom were active participants in the civil rights and women's movements, though they were too young to be part of the Freedom Rides. 

Well, darn, guess that means I need to watch a documentary and read a book, or two...or five, whatever.

I started with the American Experience documentary on the Freedom Riders because that was the source of inspiration for the Playwright and our producer. Wow. It was both shocking and inspiring. There's so much we can learn about our lives now just by really understanding what it took for us to get here.

Here's a moment where I point out that I have not talked about fashion yet. And a moment to get up on my soap box: costume design, to me, is not about parroting fashion of the times; it's about telling the story through the clothes. You not only have to become a mini expert on fashion history for each show, you have to become an expert in the history in general. I need to be able to help tell the story by knowing who these riders were and why the chose to get on a bus that would certainly lead to violence and jail. I needed to know about the people who worked against them, too. The clothes we choose to wear are the image that we want to project on the world. I have to be able to get into the heads of those riders and understand what choices they made and why.

I bought three books on the Civil Rights Movement, but my favorite is one called Breach of Peace: portraits of the 1961 Freedom Riders by Eric Etheridge. It contains the actual mug shots of many of the riders, along with short interviews. Amazing! The best part is the looks on their faces. You can see the pride! And the best part is that I could get the story of that individual, who they were, why they rode. It's a costume designer's dream come true.
The other two books I bought are The Civil Rights Movement: a Photographic History, 1954-68 by Steven Kasher and Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement by Ann Bausum. The last book is actually a children's book, but it has great pictures. 

Have I mentioned that I'm excited about this project? 

Anyway, that's where I am right now on this project! I also need more images of rural southern whites as well. Guess I need to do some more digging! Any suggestions?


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