On Wednesday afternoon, the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs at USC organized a screening of the film An Ordinary Hero in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center ballroom.
The film focuses on Joan Mulholland, a civil rights activist, and her Civil Rights Movement involvement. The reception, screening and Q&A session aimed to engage students in a discussion about activism based upon Mulholland’s accomplishments.
Mulholland was raised in the American South during a time of extreme racial prejudice and segregation. After hearing a group of black youths speak about their justification and efforts for equality, she felt a responsibility to use her position to change the Southern way of life. From that point on, Mulholland said she seized every opportunity to join the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement despite the challenges and dangers they presented.
These opportunities included her participation in the Freedom Rides and her enrollment in a historically black university, Tougaloo College in Mississippi. She also became the first white member of the historically black philanthropy-based sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. Her most prominent and recognized act, however, was her involvement in the Woolworth sit-in in Jackson, Miss.
What began as a peaceful protest turned violent when the crowd began throwing food and harassing the protesters. Someone in the crowd suddenly grabbed Mulholland by the hair and violently dragged her toward the exit as law enforcement officials watched. In a moment of courage, she escaped and made her way back to the counter despite the evident danger.
USC students in attendance at the event were intrigued and impressed by Mulholland’s story.
“I [found] Mulholland’s story to be truly inspiring and [it] is one that more USC students should be knowledgeable about,” said Nadia Fallahi, a freshman majoring in public relations. “It is important to apply her message about activism to issues in the surrounding community.”
During the Q&A portion of the event, Mulholland was also joined by three Freedom Riders to share their own experiences. Guest Robert Singleton described his experiences in the city and county jails for his participation in the Civil Rights Movement.
Members of the local chapters of Delta Sigma Theta also attended the screening to support their fellow sister and ask questions.
One woman asked about the message Mulholland was trying to impart. In response, Mulholland said, “I hope y’all get the message that almost anybody can make a difference. I hope for this film to get used as an educational tool and to inspire young folks that they can go out and do something.”
The women also questioned how to better engage kids who seem numb to the civil rights struggle. Mulholland suggested getting the young people involved with an issue directly related to them so they will be able to connect with and appreciate the past.
In closing, Mulholland shared her wisdom with the USC community.
“The message is that you don’t have to be a big name to do it,” Mulholland said. “You can just be you and make a change … Focus your energy and change the world.”