Unsung Civil Rights Heroes Take to the Silver Screen

A film festival that focuses on the untold victories of the Civil Rights era aims to revive history.

The March on Washington Film Festival starts next week, but you won't find Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr. among the usual cast of characters.

Organizers of the festival, which is now in it's third year, have dug up the true stories of civil-rights heroes whom most Americans never learn about in history class.

Like Ruby Bridges, the 6-year-old girl who was the first African-American student to integrate her local elementary school in New Orleans (Ruby Bridges). Or Constance Baker Motley, a black lawyer from New York who won case after case for the NAACP in Southern courts (The Trials of Constance Baker Motley). Then there's the story of activist Viola Liuzzo, the only white woman murdered during the civil-rights movement (Home of the Brave).

Robert Raben, founder of the Raben Group, was inspired to start the film festival three years ago after a trip to Alabama with Rep. John Lewis.

"I met people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s who exercised great courage to improve this nation, and there isn't enough education telling enough of the history of the civil-rights movement," he says. "They aren't going to be around much longer."

This year, relatives of some of the unsung heroes will speak at the screenings, such as the daughter of Fannie Lou Hamer, a poor sharecropper who became a powerful force in the battle for voting rights in Mississippi. Other guest speakers during the 10-day festival include PBS Newshour's Gwen Ifil and the son of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

One of the newer movies, Talk to Me, tells the true story of Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene Jr., an ex-con and radio host who spoke bluntly about race on the air during the 1960s in Washington, D.C. Director Kasi Lemmons says she was inspired by Greene's story and believes it has a lot to teach younger generations.

"He was a galvanizer; he knew how to reach people," says Lemmons. "I think we still need that today. We need a major movement and real leadership."

Raben, who organized the festival, says reaching a younger audience is his main goal. He wants today's young people to know that the civil-rights Movement isn't dead.

"I want them to know that you don't have to be a mythical figure like Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks to make a change and do courageous things to change communities," Raben says. "The message is: What is your civil right? What are some injustices that you see on a regular basis?"

All of the screenings are free, but nine of the 12 are sold out. Don't worry, there's a waiting list.