By Jennifer Gunter King, drawing heavily on writing by Dr. Pellom McDaniels (1968-2020)
In honor of Juneteenth and drawing from its extensive African American archives, the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library is thrilled to announce the public release of “Into the Archives: Small Steps – C.T. Vivian, Upward Bound and the Fight for Educational Opportunity,” an educational documentary about the Upward Bound program at Emory University in 1969.
The film, which includes interviews with the Reverend C.T. Vivian, whose papers are held in Rose Library, weaves together Vivian’s involvement with the civil rights movement in the 1960s; his founding of Project Vision (now Upward Bound), which focused on keeping Black high school students in school and interested in college; and a terrifying confrontation with the KKK during a trip to St. Augustine, Florida by a group of young people participating in the program at Emory in 1969. The documentary, geared toward all audiences, including educators and activists, celebrates the Upward Bound program and Emory’s leadership – an opportunity that the filmmakers recognized from their shared passion for engaging audiences with the Rose Library’s extraordinary collection of materials relating to the Black experience in the United States, in Atlanta, and throughout the African diaspora.1
Born in 1924, C.T. Vivian was a pioneer. A minister and a close friend and ally of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. he stood on the front lines of the long struggle for civil rights. In 1964, Vivian conceived of a bold initiative to help ensure that the next generation would be able to capitalize on the new opportunities the Movement was fighting for. They called it “Vivian’s Vision.” With its central purpose of preparing high school youth in Alabama for college by advancing their intellectual development to awaken an appreciation of learning, Vivian’s Vision would provide hundreds of young people their first look at what a university education might mean to them. It was a far-reaching vision that had a tremendous impact on the state of Alabama, here in Atlanta, and most significantly at Emory University. 2
Recognized as a model for providing impoverished and troubled youth with enrichment activities on college and university campuses, C.T. Vivian’s concept was absorbed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as a program for his “War on Poverty” campaign. Under the name “Upward Bound,” the program reflected a powerful concept with far-reaching implications for the future of the United States as a whole. As a forward-thinking institution, Emory was one of the first universities to bring the program on its campus. Here at Emory, we believe that access is a critical precondition for education and for change. The opportunity to make an impact on students, the community, and on society by providing access to resources that will shape their individual and collective futures is essential. Through the Upward Bound program, the Emory community changed lives.3
Upward Bound alumni Denice Morgan and Charles Harper are interviewed in the film. Morgan and Harper were among their friends from Emory’s Upward Bound program sitting in that Florida motel room as the United States brutal past and its boundless future collided.
Denice is a Vietnam Era and Gulf War Era veteran and served 24 years in the Air Force. She earned two Meritorious Service Medals, Air Force Commendation medal etc. After retirement she worked as a Disabled Veterans Employment Specialist for 14 years. She is married to Willie E. Morgan, Jr. who is also a retired and decorated Vietnam veteran.
Their daughter Letisha Morgan-Cosic is now Supervisory Civil Rights Investigator at U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights. Earlier in her career she volunteered for for Dr. C.T. Vivian dealing with civil rights issues for six months at the Center for Democratic Renewal in 2005 as a newly minted PHD in Race and Ethnic Relations from the University Of Warwick, England.
Denice herself helped to win a significant educational civil rights lawsuit that started with her representing a nephew who was dyslexic at a due process hearing, which went on to be litigated in Federal court and the 11th Circuit which helped to change special education law which had a positive impact on thousands of children in reference to getting a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for her nephew who was dyslexic, ultimately winning at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in 2008 in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Denice Morgan reflects that, “Emory University has had a major impact on my life, family and career. I will continue to fight for education rights for a FAPE which continues to be a civil rights issue! I will always be indebted to this outstanding and progressive university and Dr. C.T. Vivian. Also, Dr. Pellom McDaniels III and Dr. Eddy Von Mueller are my heroes for having the interest and doing the hard research to “unearth” this wonderful civil rights nugget that Emory played a major part in during the civil rights movement.”
The filmmakers – Pellom McDaniels, PhD (Emory, 2007), and curator of African American collections at the Rose Library (2018-2020), and Eddy Von Mueller, PhD, filmmaker, scholar and former senior lecturer in film and television studies at Emory (2007-2017) – both earned their doctorates through Emory University’s Institute of Liberal Arts. Pellom and Eddy’s relationship was established through their graduate studies at Emory, leading to their collaboration as filmmaker and curator. The release is especially poignant and powerful as it is posthumous for Pellom, who passed away unexpectedly in March of 2020. Eddy completed the documentary in honor of Pellom’s legacy and their shared commitment, alongside Vivian’s, to literacy and education.
The filmmakers present this documentary as an effort to show how repositories of historical resources, like the Rose Library, are essential to our ongoing education, documentation, and empowerment as a society and as a nation. They house the raw materials of history. Priceless resources for scholars and researchers, as well as members of the community. From these unique fragments of thousands of lives, gathered and preserved around the world, archives assemble the clearest possible picture of our shared past. Through the lens of the archive, we can understand how we got to where we are today and, better still, how to create a plan and a path forward.4
The archive ranges from manuscripts by Alice Walker and Douglas Turner Ward to the records of trailblazing African American organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Sigma Pi Phi fraternity. We have books signed by 18th century poet Phillis Wheatley and one of the 20th century’s most preeminent scholars, W.E.B. Du Bois. The archives also house the papers of ordinary people like Atlanta residents Ruth and Charles Wood, both of whom made tremendous contributions to the community through their work and service. These collections support the research efforts of our faculty and our students, and we build on them to create dynamic programming for the Emory community and the general public.
Eddy reflects that there are so many amazing stories woven into the materials held in the Rose Library. Not just the literal stories represented by the novels, plays, memoirs, and other things we might traditionally think of as storytelling media, but the ephemera, records, photographs, material objects, all of which have stories to tell. And there are so many ways we can share these stories now – exhibitions and supporting the work of scholars and academics and professors are hugely important. Examples include major exhibitions like the 2013 Southern Christian Leadership Conference exhibition, “And the Struggle Continues: The Southern Christian Leadership Conferences Fight for Social Change” and smaller exhibits like “Readers of the Lost Arkhive: Afrofuturism, Black Speculative Fiction, and Special Collections”, curated by Clint Fluker with research assistance from Emory PhD student Joshua Winston. We use video and web-based media and podcasts, like Rose Library Presents and the Into the Archives film, in ways that can allow us to share this trove of stories with broader and much more diverse audiences.
Eddy shares that, “Working with Pellom McDaniels, III on Into the Archives, engaging with people like Dr. C.T. Vivian, Denice Morgan, and Charles Harper, was such an extraordinary opportunity for me, a chance to delve into just a small corner of this vast store of stories, to explore just a few of the lives and narratives that run through one another and interconnect. The ways we can use the mediamaking tools available to us today to mobilize the materials in institutions like the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library will allow them to speak in powerful new ways to new communities. It’s incredibly exciting.”
Juneteenth is an opportunity to consider that we need to do more. It has never been more vital that we look to and acknowledge the past, to help us all face the future. Through collection building and engagement like this documentary the Rose Library seeks to eradicate systemic racism and celebrate the exceptional leadership and accomplishments of Black Americans. It is with gratitude to Pellom and Eddy that the Rose Library can release this film about Upward Bound and C.T. Vivian – making the archive accessible to a wider audience, and a way to make the treasures from the archive speak.
1 McGavin, Maureen. “Emory’s C.T. Vivian papers provide rich resources for classes, films, plays.” Emory News Center, Aug. 3, 2021
2-4 McDaniels, Pellom. Small Steps: Into the Archives Film script. 2020.